Notes on Tea

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In Pursuit of Tea Tasting Session, Countryside Edition

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 15:01

Traveling to tea-producing countries is on my bucket list. In the meantime, the next best thing is visiting the New England countryside to taste tea with In Pursuit of Tea. Jee, Sara, and I spent an afternoon last weekend with Sebastian and Ana drinking tea at a historic train depot on a riverbank and in a second-growth forest. At the depot, we ate sandwiches from a local market and drank a silver-needle-style white tea from India. Before heading to the woods for more tea, we walked down to the river and oohed and aahed like city folk at the picturesque scene: a white wooden building with bright red door and a man standing mid-stream, fishing.

Past cow-filled pastures and onto a narrow, rocky road in the woods we stopped at a clearing. We shed our shoes to walk on incredibly spongey moss and looked at turtles and dragonflies in & around a man-made pond. Thirsty for tea, we sat in an indoor nook of the cabin and drank a Darjeeling 1st Flush, a Shan Lin Xi, a Gui Fei, and a hong cha. The Gui Fei was incredibly aromatic. The dry leaves smelled like guava and the liquor like caramelized guava. I served the hong cha, the Bang Dong Hong from White 2 Tea. My hands were shaking because of nerves and from the heat of the gaiwan full of rolling-boil-temperature water.

My hands cooled off when we moved outside and Sebastian and Ana resumed pouring. We continued the tea session with a shou, a Darjeeling 2nd Flush, and a sheng with leaves sourced from near Menghai. For me the dry leaves had a layered fragrance of stone fruit and cow barn. We capped off the day with a delicious dinner including hyper-locally foraged black trumpet mushrooms.

This tasting session wasn't an explicit lesson in tea pairing but I learned a couple of combinations: dried fruit goes well with many different types of tea and both types of puer pair well with brie (and walnut bread).

It was a treat to travel further afield for tea. I look forward to doing it again, soon.

TeaVivre Fuding Shou Mei White 2012

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 15:01

The more popular Chinese white teas, I would argue, are bud heavy, whether all unopened buds as in Yinzhen/Silver Needle or a buds and small leaves as in Bai Mu Dan/White Peony. Shou Mei is a third  type of Chinese white tea and it's made from mature leaves. I didn't know this before re-reading the section on white tea in Joseph Uhl's The Art and Craft of Tea, but Shou Mei is considered the lowest grade of Chinese white tea. Luckily for us tea drinkers, TeaVivre has a very good Shou Mei in cake form. I received samples of the 2012 cake from the company this summer. Here are my notes on tea.

The dry leaves are mostly large in appearance and tobacco brown in color. Larger and darker leaves are interspersed throughout as are silver buds. The leaves smelled like paper and dried grass. The sample I annotated for my review was 9.15 grams. I prepared a 3-gram piece and a 6-gram piece separately. For the smaller piece I steeped it in 200F water for 3, 3, 4, and 5 minutes. The liquor of the first infusion was pale gold and tasted like the smell of freshly pressed linen or cotton. The tea was mild in flavor and in body.The second 3 minute infusion produced a honey-colored liquor that taste like honey, flowers, hay, and cloth-bound books. The floral and honey sweet notes reminded me of an oolong. The tea was thicker in body, too. I used too much water for the third infusion (4 minutes). The final infusion (5 minutes) had a hint of sweetness of stale dates.

Using a more leaf, less water, and shorter infusion times yielded the better experience with this tea. I infused the 6-gram subsample in 200F water starting at 1 minute and adding 30 seconds for each subsequent steep until 3 minutes to which I added 2 minutes for the final steep. After infusing the leaves the first time I smelled roasted and burned sugar notes. The liquor was sweet grass, freshly ironed cotton, paper, and creamy tail note. The second infusion was medium-bodied and viscous as it slipped over my tongue. Sweet notes of hay, paper, and nuts lingered on my palate. The third infusion (2 minutes) was fantastic! The tea was sweet and thick with notes of warm hay and linen. A creamy texture lingered and there was a fruity tail note, though I can't tell you what fruit. The liquor from the fourth infusion tasted like a mild dian hong and this smooth, creamy, and cocoa profile carried over into the next two infusion and were joined by a bright, red fruit flavor. The final infusion was a wash.

Bud only and bud + two leaves plucking styles get a lot of glory in the tea world but you won't be disappointed with this mature leaf white tea.

Two samples of Fuding Shou Mei White 2012 were provided by TeaVivre.

Tora Ceremonial Matcha

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 15:01

The image of a tiger roaring out of a forest is an interesting one for a matcha that is as smooth tasting as Tora Ceremonial Matcha. Going back to the tiger again, another reason I was surprised to see a tiger on the package of a Japanese tea is that tigers are not found in Japan. But, they used to be. Tigers from Indian migrated to and established populations in Japan during the Pleistocene but the Japanese tiger subspecies became extinct "at some unknown time".

This ceremonial matcha is made from leaves harvested in Kirishima in Kagoshima Prefecture which is 879 km (546 miles) southwest of Uji, the famed source for great matcha. The Tora matcha is packaged in a brown, resealable, foil lined pouch. On opening the pouch, a sweet, creamy puff of matcha powder was released. It should be a delightful experience, opening up a new package of matcha. This one was. The powder was a lively green though the photo shown here is a macro shot which portrays it more brilliant than it was in reality. I prepared the matcha a couple of times for this review with slight modifications to the given instructions.

Matcha Preparation - Tora's Instruction
  1. Add 1 tsp (2 g) of matcha to an empty mug or tea bowl. I added 1 sifted teaspoon to a warm chawan.
  2. To avoid clumping, add a small amount of cool water and stir or whisk matcha into a thick paste.
  3. Add 2-3 fl oz of hot water (160-175 °F) and stir or whisk briskly until a light green foam appears on the surface of tea.
The taste of the liquor was consistent with the smell of the matcha powder. It has all the elements I crave in a matcha: sweet (but not as sweet as the powder smells), creamy, grassy, and umami (but not as rich I prefer). The umami of this matcha is borderline asparagus. Bringing the bowl towards me to drink, I smelled matcha milk chocolate bar. The bottom of the cup where the thicker liquor resides produced a dark chocolate tail note.

Really look at the photo above. I used too much water to prepare this cup but was still able to get a decent layer of froth. One of the lessons I've learned from whisking matcha is to measure precisely the amount of water. I typically prepare usucha which is thin matcha but too much water even by a seemingly small amount can produce a less than desirable cup. While Tora Ceremonial Matcha is not from one of the better known matcha producing areas, I have been happy drinking this tea and would say it's a good candidate for a daily drinker.

Matcha provided by Tora Tea.

P.S. Looking to read more about matcha? Check out Eater's A Definite Matcha Taste Test.