Thursday, 30 September 2010

every last drop

One of the best known Wu Longs from Taiwan. Mildly fermented, the leaf produces a liquor with a flowery, almost peppery aroma. -Le Palais des Thes' description of Bao Zhong Oolong.

I've been waiting to write about this because I wasn't sure if my enthusiasm for this tea would waver. Somehow the two teas I found in Athens have managed to be of superior quality. Maybe I'm getting better at selecting tea. Maybe I simply got lucky. I wrote about the Grand Yunnan black soon after I got it partly because I drink so much black tea, but also because I was overwhelmed by how delicious it was.

Thought that possibly my trip was clouding my judgement-that any tea drunk while staring out at the Aegean while on an isolated, practically unknown island would be perfect. So the Yunnan I delighted in and wrote of it glowingly and that was that.

The truth is that although I write more frequently about black tea and enjoy the bitter tannins that turn off so many other tea drinkers...the truth is that I drink quite a bit of green tea and Oolong. More than I talk about here. Several days ago, I mentioned one of the Oolongs I like most (Dung-ti Oolong), and said that I had another lightly oxidised tea to report on.

In the comments section, both Sir Will and Alex sang the praises of these teas and Taiwan Oolongs in particular. I've read so many blogs and accounts of them, I knew I'd finally locate some of the finer ones. Bao Zhong Oolong is definitely in this category. Definitely.

The first infusion made me wish I did what so many do and discard it. I've said before that I have a hard time throwing any tea away. I steeped it only a few minutes and there just wasn't much to the taste. It smelled very similar to the Dung-ti, but I was really disappointed at the outset.

Here's the thing's why you infuse Oolong multiple times: the second time around was divine. Like most if not all Oolongs, there was absolutely no bitterness. None. 'No peaks, no bites,' is how Pratt says we tea drinkers describe these teas and here it's definitely the case.

By the third infusion I could nearly taste flowers in the cup. The above-mentioned description says it almost tastes 'peppery', which I couldn't quite locate. But it had the nicest vegetal notes that made me slow down and savour every sip. I cannot recommend Bao Zhong Oolong more highly.

Whether you're an Oolong aficionado or still trying this sort of tea on for size, this one is unquestionably worth a taste.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

less-oxidised Oolongs

Although I still drink quite a bit of black tea in the morning, I'm on another one of my Oolong binges. I brought a few on my trip, including Formosa Oolong and something Kröger in Hamburg calls Choice Oolong, but my tastes keep leading me towards the less oxidised sorts of Oolong.

One of the nicest is one I've written about here before, and continue to believe is a really good intro to Oolongs. It's called Dung-ti Oolong. The more I experiment with these delicious teas, the more astounded I am that they can be steeped so many times. And the taste on the third or fourth time around can sometimes be even more interesting.

I love how fresh and clean the Dung-ti is. It's definitely vegetal, but in no way grassy. It also tastes fresher after several infusions.

One tea I found in Athens was only 10% oxidised, and I'll be writing about that in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

the beginning of a Yunnan quest

There's no tea to purchase here on this tiny island in the Aegean, as I expected, but there are a few teas I picked up in Athens to write about and there's always some sort of ruminations that come to me when I have so much time on my hands.

For some reason, all the Yunnans I've tried from my suppliers in Germany have been green teas. I read about Yunnan blacks, but haven't come across any until now. The name, Grand Yunnan, that came on the package doesn't indicate what plantation it came from. My complete lack of Greek kept me from grilling the tea seller on exactly where this came from.

But this is a perfect introduction to Yunnan black teas. What I've read from multiple sources is that this is a good tea to include in a breakfast blend, and I can whole-heartedly agree. It's rather strong but in no way bitter. There's a bit of a smoky taste to it, but nothing as strong as Lapsang Souchong.

Now that I'm on the hunt, I'm sure I'll find plenty more Yunnan blacks.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

a tea oasis (or two) in the heart of the city

It turns out I'd given up one day too soon. My impression of Athens was saved by one tea salon and another tea shop that I found within a block of one another. The tea shop I was looking for specifically, while the tea salon I just happened upon.

First the shop:

The Greek word for tea is tsai, and the shop is called Tsaina ( The tea seller was very helpful and the tea was displayed beautifully. Here, look:

After I drooled over quite a selection of Oolong and black teas, I chose a few that'll be reviewed here soon. There were plenty of green and flavoured teas as well, but I packed enough green for the trip and am not remotely interested in flavoured tea. The Anglicised version of the address is: Likavitou 9 Athens in the Kolonaki neighbourhood, where it seems some of the best shops are.

Then I went around the corner to the tea salon and it was called To Tsai. 'To tea'? Yes, I can agree to that.

The place was perfect, and because I'd rushed out the door to see as much as possible on the last full day in Athens, I'd not had nearly enough tea in the morning. This would quickly be rectified by the friendly owner. I ordered a Chinese green tea called Jade Fire, as well as a very tasty Nepalese Darjeeling. Here I am obsessing about the steeping times:

The address is: Al Soutsou 19. The website is entirely in Greek, but there's allegedly an English page in the works. Maybe they'll have it ready by the time you make your way to Athens.

Hate to say that this saved the trip for me, but it really was perfect to finally locate a bit of tea in the heart of Athens. Next stop: one of the Greek islands. Am sure there'll be no tea shops there, but now I'm prepared with plenty of tea packed in my luggage. Plenty.

Friday, 17 September 2010

dearth of tea

Well, I was wrong. There might be great tea shops in Athens, but I haven't found them.

Greek is indecipherable and it's possible that when I crank my search engine into service that my inability to read the native's language is hurting my chances. But they seem to all drink coffee. The Greeks that is. And because it's still unbearably hot, they seem to drink icy coffee drinks while they leisurely stroll around pretending that it isn't incredibly inhospitable here.

But tea? Not that I can tell.

Tomorrow's my last ditch effort, but the signs don't look good. Would love to be proven wrong. But at this point, I'm underwhelmed.

Wish me luck. I'll need it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Voyaging on the lookout for tea

I've been easing off on daily blogposts for a reason. For the next several weeks I'll be in Greece, and I'm not yet sure how reliable the internet access will be.

One of the things I like to do when I travel is to visit tea shops/salons and report on what I've found. Maybe you'll never be looking for a tea shop in Hamburg or Athens, but who know? But then again, possibly you will. I've already located at least one shop in the latter. We'll see if I happen upon any more.

But as long as I have at least intermittent internet access, it doesn't matter where one is in the world. I've packed my Pratt in case I want to dip into it for something to expand upon.

One of the things I've discovered since I started getting more into tea: there's much more of a tea culture out there than I recognised. One of the cities I love most is Vienna, and until my trip this summer I only thought of it in relation to coffee. Quite unexpectedly, there are some really interesting shops in Austria's capitol.

Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by the birthplace of modernity.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

the higher the better

Heard someone mention high tea earlier today, and because the term is often confused with afternoon tea, I thought I'd quickly point out the difference.

Now if you're British, you can move on to the next post or another blog, because this will be more than obvious. Often my Scottish friends ask me what I had for 'tea'. In this context it means the evening meal. Tea is definitely included, but it means whatever meal one has when returning from a long day of work.

This is also called high tea.

An entirely different term is used for the tea that's served with small sandwiches or sweets. That's afternoon tea. To make a distinction, some even call this mid-afternoon treat low tea.

This used to confuse me to no end when I first heard people talking about having what I'd consider a heavy meal for their tea. 'Had roast beef and potatoes for my tea', I might overhear. For your tea? In place of your tea? You traded your tea for a good meal? Must've been some excellent tea.

I'm reminded of the mother, Barbara, in the television series The Royle Family when I think of this. No matter who came over to see them in the evening while they were watching their evening telly, she'd always start the conversation with, 'What'd you have for your tea?' She's talking about high tea there.

Monday, 6 September 2010

forgotten tea?

What makes me reach out for white tea in the evening? Although I like the subtle, intricate taste of most white teas, very rarely do I decide to steep it. Seems like I need to be in a particular mood to reach to that part of the cabinet. Can't say that it had to be a hard day, but white tea is very soothing.

Even at night, I like strong tea. Not necessarily black tea, but something with a bit of a punch.

So tonight I wandered into the kitchen and dug behind my other teas to find my canister of Pai Mu Tan white tea. And no matter what the occasion, or lack of occasion, this tea never disappoints. So why don't I drink it more often? Hmmm...

Are there teas like that for you? You know you like a certain tea, but it somehow gets overlooked? Passed by?

I don't mean that you're saving it. You have only a little, and haven't yet replenished that tea which you like. That's another subject entirely. What I want to hear about is a tea you have in your cabinet that you forget about. A tea that whenever you happen upon it, you're pleasantly surprised that you still have some left.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Milk in tea?

Am always curious what I'm going to write about when I come here. Sometimes I do a bit of research, and write on that. Often, I think I'll write one thing and what comes out is altogether different.

What I've been reading about lately is the history of putting milk in tea. In the early days of this blog, I spent quite a lot of time talking about this.

My position then (and to a degree now) was that milk masked the true taste of tea. If one was accustomed to milk in tea, why not try it without for a few sips before adding the milk?

From what I've read on the subject, I know now that whether you pour the milk in the cup before or after the tea affects the release of the tannins. And allegedly stains the cup more if you wait and add the milk at the end. That makes no sense to me. I've added milk at the beginning and at the end, and the cup seems equally stained.

So, my present stand on milk with tea is that it's sometimes nice with some black teas. I'd never add milk to green or Oolong teas. And the thought of putting milk in a cup of delicate Darjeeling seems sacrilegious.

Nevertheless, when I'm drinking a strong Assam or Ceylon, a bit of milk can make it somehow smoother. Sometimes when I'm offered tea and it's just not very good, then a bit of milk or sugar or both is the only thing that makes it palatable.

How about you? Did you used to drink tea with milk? Do you still? Is the mere thought unappetising?