Wu Yi Qu Hao – Green Tea 2011

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.

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Shincha and Erhus

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!


10 Teas to Start With

October 22, 2009

Now that we have covered some basics of brewing, we need to lay some ground work on determining just what teas to brew. There are thousands of types of tea and even within a specific type of tea there can be hundreds of variations, it can be daunting. Today we’ll try to compile a list of 10 teas that cover a wide enough spectrum that will quickly show you what types and characteristics of tea you, personally, enjoy and which you do not. This will allow you to explore with some confidence from that point without simply relying on luck. So let’s get to it:

1.) Ceylon – Smooth and generally mellow, this tea is probably the closest  to the standard teabag many are familiar with but a nice upgrade in flavor and quality. It is a fairly rich taste with a very slight bit of astringency and bitterness.

2.) Sencha – A Japanese green tea that is very light, bright, and refreshing. This is a true green tea in every sense of the word and miles apart from what is often sold as “green tea” in most stores.

3.) Long Jing – A very popular Chinese green tea with a bright and almost “nutty” flavor. This is a nice contrast to Sencha and showcases a different side of green tea. Also known as Dragonwell.

4.) Shui Xian – This oolong tea is often associated with tea served in Chinese restaurants. It is a nice basic introduction to oolongs and isn’t that radical a departure from many of the flavors of standard teabags, but the medium fermentation and roasting adds complexity. Also known as Shui Hsien, or water sprite.

5.) Tie Guan Yin – A greener oolong with a slightly floral aroma and flavor. The split in oolongs generally runs along the more roasted/fermented/fruity lines such as Shui Xian and the greener/floral ones like this tea. Again comparing this to the Shui Xian should yield a personal affinity towards one or the other, many enjoy both. Also known as Tie Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.

6.) Silver Needles – White tea is often shrouded in mystery and mystique, but it is really just minimally processed tea leaf that isn’t roasted or fermented, just dried. It is delicate and often has a sweetness. Also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, or Yin Zhen.

7.) Keemun – A black tea in the Chinese style which is rich, sweet, and full-bodied. This would be a great introduction tea for coffee lovers since it is not as subtle as many of the others. Some keemuns exhibit a smokey flavor which some may find desirable.

8.) Darjeeling – Sometimes referred to as “The Champagne of Teas” this Indian tea exhibits a wonderful array of flavors from sweet to nutty to grape-ish muscatel notes. Within this one category almost anyone can find at least one or two specific teas that matches their preferences. This type alone could be an entire lifelong pursuit, so try a few different ones in this category before making an assessment.

9.) Jasmine Green – I’ve included this option in the list to offer an idea of what flavored tea is really about. Almost all low-end tea and widely available tea is so heavily flavored and imbalanced that many have lost sight of the fact that the tea itself is the star. A delicate jasmine scent added to a quality green tea is a nice balance and gateway between the overpowered offerings in most cafes and the ultimate goal of the unadorned beauty of the leaf itself. Jasmine pearls are often the best choice in this type of tea.

10.) Puer – This is the single-malt Scotch and cigar of tea. It is highly prized and often aged for many years, and has a dedicated following of devotees. If you like earthy, smoky, and oaky flavors in your wines or enjoy the aforementioned Scotch and cigar, this may be a tea for you. If this doesn’t sound like your style you can skip this one altogether or at least try one to say you experienced it. Again, this is a complex group and requires quite a bit of initiative to dig into properly, there are a number of great resources on the web for those interested however. Sometimes spelled puerh or pu-erh.

These 10 teas certainly won’t show you everything tea has to offer, but it will cover a very wide breadth of styles and flavors that will act as a springboard to further exploration and enjoyment. Feel free to ask questions and post comments and most importantly, Have Fun!


Brewing Tea – Water, Temperature, and Time

October 15, 2009

I realize that to many tea brewing begins and ends with dunking a teabag into a mug of variably tepid/boiling water for an indeterminate amount of time and then adding in sugar and/or milk to mask the acrid brew that was just unleashed. I cringe when I see folks at cafes get handed a cup full of improperly heated water with a single-use tea strainer/bag in it and that is where it remains for the duration of the drink. No wonder people don’t get tea or think it needs to be doctored up in myriad ways to become palatable. There are other extremes of thermometers and timers and digital scales too, but as with anything, there is a balance. This post is meant to be a primer, not the final master class, and I plan to continue to cover this in increasing depth to help everyone realize that there is so much more to the world of tea and that it isn’t hard.

Water, Temperature, and Time

Water is one of the most important parts of the whole equation. You want to make sure the water is absent of any flavors or chemicals. Water that is poured from the little orange/red spout from coffee machines might be filtered but it also may have some hints of the coffee present. Water straight from a tap might have chlorine or sulphur. There are many options but two inexpensive options are to buy a simple faucet-mounted filter (Pur, Dupont, Brita, etc.)  or buy the 1, 3, or 5-gallon jugs or containers of spring water. Starting with a solid foundation is the only way to get a great final result.

Temperature can make the same tea brewed the same way taste completely different. Sometimes this range is a good thing and can allow for a range of flavors from the same leaf, sometimes too much heat can destroy a delicate tea. This is a topic that entire books could be written about, so what we are aiming for here is just a good reference point and we will dig into it in more detail in the future. There are also debates on how the water is heated: microwave, gas stove, electric kettle, etc. And while there is some merit to some of these arguments, for right now the method will be ignored and we will just focus on the final water temperature no matter how it got that way.

The basic rule goes like this:

Black tea – full boiling water or just off boil at the least

Oolong tea – small bubbles/almost boiling or boiling water that has been allowed to cool for a minute or so

Green tea – hot but not boiling, allow boiled water to cool for a few minutes before using. You should be able to touch the water without suffering a burn, not literally but as an illustration of the temp we are going for here.

Tisanes/Herbal tea – full boiling water, the hotter the better. This is not tea and as such you are trying to extract everything you can from the herb/flower.

As you can see, the one-size-fits-all orange/red coffee machine lever is not useful for almost anything but green tea and some oolongs. So if you are at a cafe or situation (like an office) where this is the only option, your best bet is to select a green tea or oolong and just make do.

Time is the other important piece in this equation. Again some teas allow for some variation here and will offer up different flavors and complexities depending on how short or long it is steeped, some will become undrinkable (bitter or astringent) if left for too long. Each particular tea within a larger category (green, black, etc.) will have an optimal time and temperature but again we are setting up the basics here.

I start from 30-45 seconds to about 1-2 minutes and an occasional tea will work well with 3-5 minutes, herbal/tisanes always go 3-5 minutes. Start shorter and then try longer brews and find your particular sweet spot for the specific tea. Some do well with even longer 3-5 minute brewings, some become bitter and too strong.  It is all about what tastes good to YOU, not what a package or “expert” states is correct. With the right water and temperature, you can experiment on time to find what works for you… but leaving the tea in the cup for 5+ minutes until you finish it is not really the proper solution for ANY tea.

Quality tea makes a huge difference as well as does the amount used. Start with a solid teaspoon’s worth of leaf if in doubt and adjust from there to your taste.

Enjoy!


Rou Gui Oolong – Teaspring

August 18, 2009

Ahh… finally back to tea. My shipment arrived after the normal struggles with the USPS and their inability to grasp the concept of accepting the signed form *they* provide and the fact that most normal people are not home at 11AM to personally accept packages. I wish I was however. Regardless, I am now the happy owner of some teas in a totally new direction for me… red/black tea. I also snagged some Rou Gui because it is a tea I have heard a lot about but have never tried. So, I started with it.

Rou Gui is often spoken about as having cassia/cinnamon-like qualities which intrigued me, however the nose of the freshly opened packet was more of red dates. I wasn’t getting anything resembling cinnamon at all, in fact I wasn’t getting a whole lot of anything from the dry leaf. In my gaiwan I began to brew the tea and the initial aromas from my notes went like this: Citrus. Chamomile. Nestea Instant Iced Tea w/ Lemon.  The last one might seem strange but it was the perfect explanation of the scent, those pre-sweetened instant tea granules that come in the can have the exact aroma of what I was getting. As it brewed a bit longer the aroma changed abruptly to a green TGY and it lost those former notes completely.

The first sip was purely green oolong. Thin, watery, not very complex, not much of anything. Again, certainly no cinnamon. A bit of a letdown. I moved on to a second brewing to see if anything new might appear but unfortunately nothing did, more of the same. Pretty disappointing. It is a good tea for what it is but nowhere near what I had been expecting or hoping for, and since I’m not a big green oolong fan there was little for me to get excited about. I’ve not given up yet, though, and I will track down a more finely crafted version before giving up on it.


Summertime Jasmine Green Iced Tea

June 29, 2009

Summer has been fighting to make an entrance and we’ve had a couple hot days that could qualify as summery, and every summer I turn to a single, ashamedly, favorite. Sunflower brand Jasmine Green Tea, iced. Yes, that is the cheap one in the yellow/gold tin sold in every Asian market known to man. I can’t help it. I have plenty of high-end jasmine greens, but none of them make the great iced tea I know and love.

Unlike most tea brewed to become iced, do not over brew it. It will get horribly bitter. It’s a delicate ballet and they key is to make it strong enough that it stands up to some dilution from ice, but not bitter. Sure, you can cheat and just brew it to the desired strength and then put it in the refrigerator to cool it down slowly… but I prefer the instant gratification iced method. I’d say just under boil water and like 3 minutes steep, if this is bitter try 2.

It wil be a delicate flowery treat. I drink it straight but to sweeten it only use a natural sugar (yellow lump, turbinado, or palm) as white sugar or honey don’t pair well.

Enjoy!