Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Keemun all alone

My plan was to get some Keemun tea and immediately start blending it with my strongest Assams, but I got caught up steeping this wonderful tea all alone. I'm sure I'll eventually mix it with other teas, but not yet.

I've now gone and done a bit of research about this tea and am surprised that there's much more here than I realised. I didn't think Keemun was a simple tea, but that it was mild and a bit boring. Little did I know.

Developed in the late Nineteenth Century (very recent for Chinese tea), this is a very well known tea and the best of it was allegedly reserved only for the British upper class and royals. Like the Ceylons I prefer, it doesn't surprise me that the best Keemun is grown at high altitudes.

The specific tea I'm starting with here is Keemun Hao Ya. I agree with the accounts I've read that this tea is floral, though not as floral as a Darjeeling, and definitely mellow. There's no bitterness at all. One writer even said you can't over-steep this tea. I'm not going to test that, but I can imagine it's difficult to leave this tea in the water too long.

In addition to the tea being grown at such high altitudes, there's another reason this tea stands apart from others. One is an essential oil called Myrcenal. This is supposedly the only tea that contains this oil. There's something else found in many teas called Geraniol, which is forty to one hundred times stronger in Keemun. The unique, sweet taste that Keemun is known for has these two chemical properties to thank for it (source: Keemun Tea-the Burgundy of Tea by Alexa Wang

So at some point, I'll start throwing this tea in with others to see how it softens or enhances other tea. But until now, I've been enjoying it too much all alone.

Friday, 22 October 2010

tea scam

Let me start out with a disclaimer that the farther you get from high-traffic tourist places, the less likely it is that you'll run into this sort of thing. I haven't been to Shanghai, but am sure that I'd fall for this if I weren't warned.

You've just arrived in Renmin Square (People's Square) and a few very friendly Chinese people appear and start to chat you up. You're very likely exhausted from the trip, a bit unsettled by the culture shock and here are some friendly people.

So the scam allegedly goes like this: a couple or even several young adult 'students' come up and strike up a conversation. After varying lengths of time buttering you up, they convince you to go to a teahouse with them. Like I say, this is the only bait they'd need to land me. Tea with the locals? Well sure.

You sit down, have tiny cup after tiny cup of decent (but not exquisite tea) and are presented with an astronomical bill at the end of the visit. That's it. Logic tells you that these overly friendly folk are not to be trusted, but as I say, I'd be overly willing to trust them. Wouldn't want to offend them culturally at the outset. Might really think the experience was an authentic one I wouldn't otherwise have.

Having said all of that, I avoid the most heavily-travelled places that attract most tourists. Hopefully in the event of a trip to Shanghai, I'd have already done enough research to know where to go without being lured into a scam. At least I hope so.

Monday, 18 October 2010

it's not aversion-it's healthy respect

What could be the reason I wait until late afternoon or evening to drink green/white tea? Good question. Am glad you asked.

It's not that I don't like these teas-I truly do. And I can't say I never drink green tea earlier in the day. Just rarely.

But on the whole, I wait for the green. As with other sorts of tea, I like strong green teas. Don't mind that vegetal taste that turns some off. And grassy Japanese Senchas are very much appreciated.

Have read limitless conflicting information about caffeine levels in different teas. Some say black tea has far more caffeine than green tea, others say green tea has just as much caffeine as other teas. No idea why, but I can sleep after drinking plenty of caffeine. So whether a tea has a little or a lot of the stuff really doesn't make any difference.

I do feel a bit daunted writing about green teas. So many sites and blogs are out there written by people who've been all over China or have been drinking this stuff half their lives. Unlike other teas where I feel more qualified to make judgements, green teas still seem to be in a category that I've not yet mastered.

It does take a while to learn that not all green teas are created equal. That how you prepare the more sensitive kinds has everything to do with the quality of the resulting taste. It's almost as if I have the rest of my life to solve the mysteries of all the different Chinese and Japanese creations. I'm not complaining. Far from it.

It's simply very clear to me that I still have plenty to learn.

I have a friend who swears by a study trick he learned at university. Whatever you read right before you fall asleep is more likely to stay lodged in your brain. Well, my day normally ends with a pot or two of green tea. My body has yet to complain about this last taste before bed.

My bladder, on the other hand, would prefer I lay off the limitless green tea.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Curious and satisfying

Instead of writing about which Oolongs I like as I transition away from black tea, I'd rather talk about why. There's almost always some Darjeeling in the late afternoon, but before that I like Oolong. Again-I'd rarely go from black tea to green. Don't ask me why. Sometimes after a bit of Oolong, I'll dive into the green, but even that's seldom my desire.

Why Oolong and why now? There's a point at which the dark black tea has run its course. I've heard that too much black tea can make one's pH balance sour. No idea if that's true (or even what that really means), but there's a point in the late morning/early afternoon where I just don't want anymore of that smoky or malty brew that I so craved just a few hours earlier when my eyes first cracked open.

Maybe it's because Oolong doesn't have any bite. No aftertaste. None at all. Have written here at length about my shock at finding out how many times the same bit of Oolong can be steeped. Merely thinking about the tea I wasted before I then makes me cringe. In those days, I'd make a pot of Oolong and afterwards simply throw out the leaves.

Now, I can make several handfuls of Oolong last half the afternoon. And the better I get at multiple steepings, the more variety it seems there is in every infusion. It makes the whole process both curious and satisfying.

I am by no means an expert at these delicious Chinese and Taiwanese creations, but it seems like the only way you learn is by trial and error. Possibly because of my multiple errors, I'm that much more appreciative when I can pull even more taste from yet another steep.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Startles me awake

I liked what Ice Hellion asked me in the comments of my last post so much that I decided to wax philosophic on what sort of tea I drink at what time of day. The simplest way to describe it is that I start my day as dark as possible and go gradually lighter.

I enjoy black teas with a lot of tannins, so I'll almost always go for a strong Assam or simple Ceylon at the outset. I've played with making my own blends and will continue to do so. Although I've heard a lot about using Keemun to soften other black teas, I haven't yet tried it. I will soon and let you know my experience as it develops.

Another goal I have is to find more black teas that were either grown in Africa or Indonesia. For a while I was drinking a Java Santosa either alone or to lighten the darker Assams I like.

Something Alex said in the comments was that he really liked the Ceylon from Nuwara. I cannot agree more. I've tried and liked many different Ceylons, but the higher elevations seem to produce the very best of Sri Lanka. The very best I've had was from the plantation called 'Lover's Leap'.

Why always start the day with black tea? Maybe it's because I'm a reformed coffee drinker, and I still associate starting the morning with as much of a kick as possible. I don't think it's only the caffeine levels either. I've read that some Oolong and green teas have as much caffeine as black. I love the effect of caffeine and my body's certainly come to expect it. Nevertheless, I think I also like the heavy, bitter taste that startles me awake.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The tea that got me through

So it's been a long trip for a tea drinker in a coffee drinking culture. Have had my share of Greek coffee with the grounds sifting to the bottom. If you want to be a tea snob on this tiny little island in the Aegean, you have to bring your own. And I did.

Have already written about the teas I discovered in Athens, but there are a few mainstays in my tea chest that got me through.

If I wasn't drinking the new Grand Yunnan first thing in the morning, I was happily guzzling either Assam Khongea or Ceylon Nuwara. Here's the roof terrace where I'd try to have a cuppa before the heat of the day was so strong.

That took me through to early afternoon where I often switched to either Darjeeling Singbulli or a variety of Oolongs that I'm a bit obsessed with right now. The Formosa Oolong was a fall back if I couldn't decide on another, but often I was dipping into the ones I've been talking about here lately. Especially the Bao Zhong Imperial. I get thirsty just thinking about this tea. And after four, or even five, steepings of the Oolong, I'd move onto some green. More on that later. Off to the airport on a tiny propeller plane to Athens. Then home to Munich.

The above-mentioned transition from Oolong to green often happened while I was watching the sunset from the roof terrace. Nice, eh?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Don't blame the tea

I try to be magnanimous. Really I do. When it's unbearably hot, I know many of you enjoy iced tea. Have written before about how even in burning hot weather, I stick with hot tea.

Many tea sites extoll the virtues of serving really excellent Oolong or green tea cold. I can understand that in theory, even though I personally wouldn't go so far and actually ice it. But canned/bottled iced tea? It's not even really tea, is it?

There's something just not right about it. Not that I needed proof, but here's some:

Hamilton was arrested in the dawn hours of Sunday morning after she and a friend allegedly swiped a couple of cases of canned or bottled iced tea from a convenience store, and then accidentally backed into the 66-year-old clerk's knee as they made their getaway.


Now I realise that most of you might think this is jumping to conclusions. But really.

I don't blame the tea, because as I said already it's not even really tea. It's more sugar/sweetener and artificial chemicals than anything resembling tea.

Can you imagine any loose-leaf tea fan doing such a thing? I can't.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

You needn't climb a mountain

When I started researching for tea shops/salons in Athens, I kept finding mentions of Greek Mountain Tea. Having no idea what it was, I resolved to find some of this stuff, try it and review it here. At first, I thought I had to locate a specialty shop in the capitol, but in fact this is no delicacy and can be bought most anywhere. Supermarkets, shops and a few said specialty shops…this can be easily had.

It’s simply the dried leaves and flowers of the Sideritis plant (ironwort). Allegedly, it’s a hardy plant that can grow with relatively little water or soil at high altitudes. One kind of the plant, called Sideritis raeseri, is actually cultivated exclusively in Greece, but other wild sorts are out there being picked, dried, thrown in boiling water and otherwise enjoyed.

Now on to how it tastes: my hopes were high for this tea. When I found so little tea culture in Athens, I thought at least I could make a unique discovery to share with my little corner of the tea world. Alas, it wasn’t to be. At least regarding taste. It’s not bad, but it’s truly nothing special. At all. The closest thing I could find to compare it with is Chamomile. Nothing against Chamomile. I’ve heard a bit of Chamomile daily can do wonders for your health.

Which is actually where this Greek Mountain Tea comes in again. They drink it when the temperature drops, which it apparently rarely does. According to

Mountain Tea is enormously popular in Greece, and used most often in winter when levels of physical activity decrease and colds, aches, and pains increase. It is said to have a positive effect on almost anything that ails but, most notably, it is used for colds, respiratory problems, digestion, the immune system, mild anxiety, and as an anti-oxidant. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce fever.

So there you have it. It’s herbal tea. Because it doesn’t come from the tea plant, I know some of you won’t even go so far and call it a tea at all. I certainly don’t want to open that can of worms again. For lack of a better term, it’s tea. Oh, it’s also sometimes called Shepherd’s Tea, because that’s who brews it up in the mountains. Greek Mountain Tea or Shepherd’s Tea? It’s certainly not going to hurt you. Unless you’re allergic to Ironwort. In which case, stay away. Who’s allergic to Ironwort?