Friday, 28 January 2011

the soil from which it came

Had a long discussion with myself earlier today about what factors impact the quality of tea. I know the plant itself is crucial and the way the tea farmers handle the tea is equally important. But something I got to thinking about today was the quality of the soil that the tea is grown in.

I've asked before what makes Darjeeling tea so unique. The altitude plays a part, as do the things mentioned above. But the actual earth that the tea is grown in must also be key. When it comes to Darjeeling specifically, the spirit of the Hindu god Shiva is also purported to be at work, as well.

But I'd like to continue on this theme of the soil. I did the scantest research, but I did find a very scholarly looking article (http://www.pakbs.org/pjbot/PDFs/38(2)/PJB38(2)293.pdf) that did it's very best at confusing me further.

There was one line that told me I was on the right track, 'but the pH of the soil is the most critical for raising the nursery plants.' Now we're getting somewhere. A low pH is paramount, because high pH causes something called 'callusing' and might slow down the process.

Then the article goes into excruciating detail about what you can do if you have soil with a high pH level (add either sulphur or an aluminium sulphate solution, but this can backfire because if the soil starts producing sulphuric acid). I'm not going to get any more specific. I'm sure if you're trying to improve the quality of your soil for growing tea, my blog is the last place you'll come looking.

But I am curious if you've heard about the impact of soil on the resulting tea.

Why is tea in China so dramatically different from that in India? Is it simply down to the plant and the way it's processed?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Has it already been a whole year?

Just went back and looked at when I started this teablog exactly, and noticed that yesterday was exactly one year. My first anniversary.

How much has changed in a year. It's rather unbelievable when I think too long about it.

I still feel there's so much to learn when it comes to tea. Am glad I got fascinated by a topic that was multi-faceted enough that I've never come close to running out of ideas. I've certainly written about some things with a very loose connection to tea, but somehow managed to tie them back in to tea drinking/tea culture.

There is one piece of particularly good news to share:

I was recently accepted into The Association of Tea Bloggers. I wanted to wait and announce the news when I figured out how to attach the association's seal/badge on the front page of this blog, but that hasn't happened yet. I thought the one year anniversary was a perfect opportunity to tell you the good news.

Nice, eh? Thanks for all your support.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

taking the bad with the good

Someone on twitter linked to a video of a fellow called San Bao. He was meditating and serving Oolong tea and generally talking about his life and the way he sees tea and the world. Here's his website in case you'd like to see it for yourself:

http://www.lotus-awakening.com/

But something he said got me thinking. The guy interviewing him asked what he thought about the state of the world. Things going on in the world. His response was very positive.

He said something that I definitely agree with. The newspapers are filled with what's wrong in the world. Typically, you don't read about hopeful things in the news. He was very clear to say that even in the places with the most turmoil, there are mothers who love their children and people doing good things for one another.

So that's what I'm thinking about as I sip my Dung-ti Oolong. As the tea warms me and my mind calms down from a long day, I'm ignoring explosions in a Moscow airport. Of course it's sad and criminal that a company that makes animal feed in Germany was discovered to be using cheap, poisoned oil in their products. Many animals on many farms were found to have such high levels of toxins in their systems that entire livestock had to be culled.

It's not that I'm ignoring these things. They're certainly out there. But there's so much positive going on around us. You don't have to drink tea to see those good things, but it doesn't hurt. Off to heat the kettle for another infusion. And to think about how fortunate we really are.

Friday, 21 January 2011

five times the tea

The more practice I get at steeping larger quantities of Oolong for shorter periods of time, the more I get out of this tea. I think there's going to be much more Oolong from Taiwan in my near future, but for some reason I've come across quite a lot of Himalayan Oolong lately. Whether it's from Nepal or Darjeeling, my experience has been that it's more sensitive than the Taiwanese or Chinese Oolongs that I know.

I've had much better results from using water at no more than 75°C. No idea why this is, but just by using water this little bit cooler means that I get the tea to steep as many as two or even three additional times. Am coming to the end of a Nepalese tea that I've written about before called Jun Chiyabari Oolong, and I wanted to write about it now in case I don't find this again for a while.


The leaves looked nearly identical to the high mountain Oolongs I know from Darjeeling (no surprise there). Although there were quite a few green leaves mixed in, this looked like it had a relatively high oxidation. The appearance of the leaves don't always tell, but once I started brewing it, it was obvious this was not a light tea.




Slowly, I've come to expect very little from the first infusion. This was no exception. Having said that, I must say that I love the scent of the leaves in the pot and the tea itself once it's been poured. So fresh and vibrant. It's a wonder that something can smell so delicious and lack a distinctive taste.

The next steep was thankfully the exact opposite. If anything it was a bit too bitter. There was a bit of a burnt taste at this point even if the leaves continued to be overly fragrant.



I took photos of each infusion, but they didn't differ much from cup to cup. This tea that's grown so high in the mountains has a very dark coppery cup colour.






As the bitterness lessened in the third infusion, the taste of vanilla started to come out. this is exactly the kind of thing I never experienced brewing this tea in a big conventional teapot. By the fourth and fifth infusions, the strength of the tea was noticeably diminished. Nevertheless, I could finally taste the floral notes that I could only smell before. Ordinarily, I would've tried to squeeze out one last cup of tea, but the five infusions I had in the late morning/early afternoon seemed to be as good as this tea was going to get.

What a marvel that I got five very different tea experiences from the same little handful of tea leaves.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

a general sense of well-being

Because of the harbours in the northern cities of Hamburg and Bremen, tea companies/importers and tea houses are in abundance. Southern Germans certainly drink tea, but the tea culture is smaller. Having said all that, people do drink tea down here, and it seems those people are becoming more visible.

Part of that is because several tea shops and tea houses have opened in Munich in the last year or so. I've written about a few of them, but might spend some time going over them again.

Have talked in rather intricate detail about brewing tea and pouring it into a thermos, so I can have it on the go. I do that almost anytime I travel, whether I'm gone for several days or only the afternoon. As convenient as it is to slurp my best tea en route from here to there, the experience of sitting down in a tea house is unquestionably different.

So I had an hour or so between appointments today, and I treated myself to a trip to the Tushita Teehouse in the Glockenbachviertel near the Frauenhofer Straße U-Bahn station.

I'll go into much more detail about this place in another blogpost, because I'd like to focus on something else. Sometimes when you really slow down and take the time to enjoy the tea, an overwhelming feeling of calmness can result. I had a moment after the three infusions of the their Kukicha, where I was practically glowing. I didn't force myself to get up and do something else. I didn't rush off to catch the next train. I simply sat there and enjoyed that peaceful feeling that sometimes results from drinking tea.

I don't want to get esoteric here. There are plenty of times I drink a cuppa while working or while I'm on the run. It's not possible for me to always take this kind of time to slow down. But when I do...when I really put down my newspaper, turn off my phone, set aside whatever's going on outside in the street or in the world, I can appreciate the tea in an entirely other way.

If you're into tea, I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. On another visit, I'll have my notebook and describe each infusion and the cup colour and whether I tasted something nutty or grassy...I do like that sort of thing. But this time I decided to experience all of those things but focus on the overall effect of the whole session. The way several cups of tea today really enhanced my general sense of well-being.

Here's a photo of the Kukicha leaves (this is a teablog, after all):

Monday, 17 January 2011

any tips for preparing green tea?

For some reason, I bought an inhumane amount of China Sencha Dong-Bai green tea a while back. I've complained about it here before. Well, it's not bad tea. But each time I've brewed it, it's been rather bitter.

Have tried steeping it with water of different temperatures. I used to steep it much longer, but have incrementally lessened the time and it still retains its flavour when it's steeped for as short as three minutes. So that's what I do.

But I've decided to lay this out for those of you who know green teas better. By varying the steeping times and lengths, how much influence can you have on the way the tea tastes? Although I drink a lot of green tea, I read again and again that green tea is more sensitive than other tea.

Am I not being careful enough?

I've also read that you should soak green tea and discard the water before steeping it. The explanation was that many green teas are still dirty from the processing. I've never washed tea before I drink it. Do you? Does it make a difference?

One of the things I like to do most here is to help people who are curious about or new to tea. If you've had similar problems/questions regarding green tea, please say something in the comments and I'll write more about this in the future.

If you've got some advice about the particularities of green tea, please let us know. What's been your experience?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

old man's tea

Am really enjoying a lot of Oolong tea right now, and though I'm still learning more about Gong Fu brewing, I'm really enjoying the many infusions of each tea drinking session.

Recently heard/read that this style of brewing tea is also called 老人茶 or lao ren cha, which translates as 'old man's tea'. They call it this, because only old men would have the time to sit around and take so much time to drink little cup after little cup of successive pots of Oolong.

(Here's the original post I read from Neil Gorman: http://laorencha.com/about/)

Because I love this image and don't want to distract from it, I'm going to keep this blogpost very short. Have often pondered the possibility that I'm a very old man stuck in a moderately young man's body. I love to sit in cafes, read the paper, and complain about the state of the world. Drinking old man's tea is perfect for exactly such a worldview. Perfect.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

tea plantation daydream

Recently read a really nice blogpost about a woman visiting a tea plantation in Ceylon. She had a great description of the whole ordeal and lovely photos. The blog was written by an American living in England, and she was describing a very relaxing and invigorating trip to see where and how tea is grown. Here's the URL if you want to see what I'm talking about: (http://www.aladyinlondon.com/2011/01/ceylon-tea-tour-sri-lanka.html)

Her post got me thinking about a post I wrote last year in the dead of winter:

(http://lahikmajoedrinkstea.blogspot.com/2010/02/daydreaming-in-sri-lanka.html)

I know some tea drinkers who aren't that curious about the origin of their tea. Maybe a bit curious, but the thought of actually going and seeing where the tea was grown is the farthest thing from their minds. Not me. I really wonder what it's like there. I find out where a tea plantation is, and I search for satellite imagery of the area.

I fantasize about what it would be like to hike in the mountains of Darjeeling. I wonder how much of the tea processing they'd really let you see on a Chinese tea estate. I hear about the damage to the tea plants in Assam, and I wonder if the landscape is visibly ravaged.

So that's where my thoughts are on this mild wet winter's evening. I'm sure there are places where tea-pickers aren't paid a decent wage. Or where the tea is grown as just another commodity. I'm not thinking about those issues or places.

Instead, I'm on a plantation where they take loving care of every step of the process. Can't wait to take a trip like that Lady in London.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

'flown tea' nine months too late

While going through my tea over the holidays, I came upon something I'm a bit embarrassed about. I was in Hamburg last spring, and visited (and blogged about) a wide assortment of tea shops (http://bit.ly/dE75QU). One of the places I was most impressed with was Teehaus Shila. They were incredibly friendly and knowledgable, and after I asked a thousand questions, the young guy behind the counter handed me a sample of their Flugtee, which translates as 'flown tea' or 'air tea'.

The way the story was explained to me: the owner of the shop flies to Darjeeling when the initial first flush is ready and comes back with suitcases full of the stuff. As fresh as it can possibly be. He's not the only guy in Germany that does this. Apparently, there are a few shops in Germany that get this tea several weeks before everyone else and promote it accordingly.

Do they do this anywhere else in the world? I went back to Teehaus Shila's website, and it seems they're selling the Flugtee for the same price. Maybe it's different from the other first flush Darjeelings that you can get later.

Why was I embarrassed? Because I saved the little packet for a special occasion, and then promptly forgot about it. Until I cleaned out my tea cabinet recently, and there it was.

I have no idea how much better it would've been back in April, but it was pretty good when I finally brewed it today. Am not sure I would've even appreciated it back then. I was still very new to Darjeeling first flushes, and not that impressed. Since then, I've had many different first, second and autumnal flushes, and my palate has definitely improved.

Now that I've tried the most recent teas that Darjeeling Tea Express has on offer, I truly cannot wait until they are able to send the many first flush teas of 2011. Am salivating just thinking of it.

Will happily drink the second and Autumnal flushes until then, but I'm waiting impatiently for the next batch of Flugtee, whether it's flown in or not.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A few Nice places for tea

Nice, Côte d'Azur, France



For the first few days I was in Nice, I had a horrible time finding a good place for tea. On my last full day, I stumbled into a handful.



If I hadn't seen these teapots, I'd have thought this was merely a coffee shop. The smell of coffee was overwhelming, but here and there mixed with the coffee were tins of tea. The variety for such a small shop was impressive, but the prices were a bit on the steep side. It's Nice's old town, so I shouldn't be surprised. As Alex said in the comments of my last post, the French seem to be focused on blends. This place was no exception. There were some very interesting looking blends, but since many of them were scented, I just couldn't be convinced to try one.







One corner of the shop was devoted to loose-leaf tea, and luckily these seemed to be predominately unscented teas. Like I said, quite a variety. There were a few selections of tea from each well-known region of the tea world. Were I staying here in France much longer, I'm sure I'd purchase a few of these teas on display.








So, this place is called Cafés Indien, and you can find it at 2/B, rue Sainte Reparate 06300 Nice (phone 04 93 85 67 08). They were very friendly, as well as helpful with all of my questions.



Once I found the first shop, then really nice cafes, which also sold tea, started coming out of the woodwork. The first one was around the corner from La cathédrale Sainte-Réparate and was called Le Café Marché. I've even located a website for this one (http://www.cafe-marche.fr). Very inviting little place, where the teas offered were served beautifully. You can find it at 2 rue, Barillerie 06300 Nice (phone 08 99 23 02 80).





This is exactly the kind of place I've been searching for the last week. So many places call themselves Salon de thé, but only have cheap teabags to offer (Ice Hellion explained why in the comments to my last post). Here's the board listing what tea they serve:






And here's what it looks like from out front:



The next place I happened upon serves tea from Mariage Frères and was a shop with exactly my kind of vibe. It's advertised as a cookie shop, but don't let that fool you. It's called Emilie's Cookies & Coffee Shop, and according to their website (http://www.emiliescookies.com), there's another location in the modern city centre. Until I've seen both, I can only vouch for the one in the old town. Here it is: 1 Rue Préfecture, 06300 Nice (phone 04 93 79 88 40). The front door doesn't scream out 'Drink tea here':




But once you go inside, it's another story. Really comfy couches and chairs, and free wifi. Not a bad deal. Exactly my kind of place.









Finally, I'm going to mention a very pleasant looking place that serves quality tea, as well as fantastic chocolate. Had I not found the other places, I might've stepped into Lenôtre at 14, avenue Félix Faure 06000 Nice (phone 04 92 26 17 00). It's very chic, and I'm sure it's the only acceptable place for tea, for some people, after an exhausting day at a bunch of high-end shops. The chocolates looked divine through the window, but luckily (because I'd had enough tea at that point) I didn't have to make my way past them to get to the tea room. I've chosen to wrap up my tour of tea salons in Nice with a couple of photos of this beautiful place:

Saturday, 1 January 2011

not a tea town (at least so far)




Regarding tea, this trip to Nice hasn't been as dry and fruitless as the one to Athens, but it's not been nearly as good as I thought it would be. Paris spoiled me for tea salons, and I'd expected something similar here. It is still France after all.

There are plenty of establishments that advertise as Salon de the. The problem is that then you walk over and look at their menu, and realise that these places are tourist restaurants. I just cannot believe that the quality of their tea is worth the ridiculous prices they're charging.

There's a long and moderately interesting history of the English coming to the Côte d'Azur supposedly Queen Victoria being the most influential. With them they brought the tradition of tea drinking. I'm certainly not saying the French didn't or don't drink tea, but the British seem to have made it an integral part of their raison d'être.

So, just to be clear, I haven't given up on tea shops or tea salons here in this city. Am sure once the New Year's festivities have calmed down, I'll discover more. There is a place called the Scotch Teahouse right in the thick of it all, and I'm sure I'll write about a visit there.

The there's also Le Palais des Thés, which I saw on the first evening here. I found their teas in Athens, and was impressed with the attractive shop and the beautiful way they display their tea. Here's the entrance to the shop: