Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Oolong all the way from the Rohini Estate in Darjeeling

The test for my new teapot has been to brew a few Oolongs that I simply couldn't enjoy prepared in my normal teapot. The first one I tried, and it was much better, was a Jun Chiyabari Oolong from Nepal. Not sure why it tasted so much better steeped repeatedly in this brown clay pot, but it did.

I'm hoping that the more I experiment with these different teas, the more infusions I'll be able to get. Earlier this year, I got some Darjeeling Rohini Oolong from Teehaus Shila in Hamburg. I've briefly mentioned Oolong from Darjeeling before (the Himalayan Oolong that Darjeeling Tea Express sent me was quite good), but because I couldn't brew the Oolong from the Rohini Estate to taste very good, I assumed Oolongs from Nepal or Darjeeling simply weren't of a very high quality. Am beginning to see that the problem lay more with me than with the tea.

Here's how the leaves looked at the outset:

If I hadn't tasted this tea, I'd say the leaves looked like a typical Darjeeling black tea. This tea was anything but.

The first infusion was light, but there was something a bit malty to the taste. I steeped the second infusion too long and although it was a bit bitter (something I rarely experience with Oolongs), I noticed a taste that I normally associate with Formosa Oolong. It was almost a bit of a burnt flavour.

The third infusion was where I under-steeped it after going too long the time before. Nevertheless, there was a bit of a mint aftertaste. Very light, but definitely there. Only on the fourth infusion could I detect a bit of vanilla. I've never tasted vanilla in an Oolong. Quite a surprise.

Here's how the leaves looked after the workout I gave them:

For the next week or so, I'll be in France for the New Year. Cannot wait to report on the Tea Salons in Nice and whether there are differences between tea drinking there and in Paris. Stay tuned.

Monday, 27 December 2010

comfy tea gear

In the early days of this blog, I could always rely on Jeff for a snarky comment about something I was being particularly pedantic about here. But he continues to read semi-regularly, and is always game to try whatever tea I'm obsessed with at the moment.

He was over earlier today and we had four of five infusions of a Formosa Oolong in my new ceramic teapot. Aside from questioning why we had to drink out of the thimbleful ceramic cups that came with the teapot, he seemed to enjoy the way the taste developed from one infusion to the next.

Fast forward to the evening, and I'm at Jeff's to watch football. He has a reliable teapot he bought at Whittard in London years ago, and we typically drink a pot or two in the course of an evening. This was a nondescript mix of Indian black tea, but was tasty and certainly did the job.

And then he has a tea cozy , which he says used to seem obscenely touristy, but he's gotten used to. I assured him that at least it didn't scream LONDON in big block letters.

During the holiday festivities, Jeff was given a bizarre specimen of fruit, and I'm curious if any of you have a clue what in the world this could be. Any ideas?:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

a bit deeper with the Gopaldhara 2nd flush

Decided to try two Darjeelings alongside one another, and wanted to see how this new tea from Darjeeling Tea Express tasted in direct comparison to tea from another source.
The former is a Darjeeling 2nd flush FTGFOP1 from the Gopaldhara estate, while the latter tea was described as simply Tea of the Year 2010 and had the grade FTGFOP1, but it wasn't clear which flush it was.

Although the leaves of both teas were very dark green, the leaves of the second tea were lighter and even had a glimmer of light green leaves mixed in.

My preference in Darjeelings continues to be teas from the 2nd flush, and this was no exception. My suspicion is that the Tea of the Year was a 1st flush. The brewed tea smelled flowery, but the taste was simply not very memorable. Both teas have a very coppery cup colour, but the taste of the Gopaldhara 2nd flush was much fuller. There was also a light wood smell to this tea. Even though there was a bit of bitterness, it wasn't as much as with some 2nd flush teas.

The Gopaldhara is on the left, while the Tea of the Year is sitting nearby. This is definitely not an advertisement for either tea, but if you want to know where to find the Gopaldhara, here's where you can find this specific tea on the Darjeeling Tea Express website:


Am really enjoying spending more time with these teas that I had such a rushed introduction to during the tea tasting a few weeks ago. Thus far, this is the tea I like the most from the five we tried.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

am sure the tea is helping

Am in a relatively pensive mood. Although the tea is helping, it's not only tea that's on my mind.

Have been brewing pot after pot of Oolong in the new teapot I introduced here the other day. Although I'm sure I'll get back into a frame of mind where I'm writing teanotes and analyzing tea-related topics, today I'm simply enjoying the tea. Not ignoring the sensation of drinking tea, but simply not in the mood to record all of my thoughts.

I did read in the paper recently that many people consider this cold, wet weather perfect for drinking tea. Because I enjoy drinking tea in all weather, it's hard for me to imagine one time of year being better for enjoying tea. I suppose this is simply one of those assumptions about tea that fits alongside only drinking tea when one's ill.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

shrinking my teapots

Recently I was asked several questions by Jordan Williams at Tyros of Tea (http://tyrosoftea.wordpress.com/), and one of them was about the teapots I use. I have a few Art Deco teapots that I happily use, but have not branched into other tea gear. When I read about Gong Fu , I resolved to get a teapot specifically for such brewing. But in the meantime, I was making do with a large measuring cup and a strainer. Needless to say, I never made photos of my ridiculous contraption.

But now I've been given a more suitable teapot. Although the ideal size seems to be much smaller than I'm used to, I'm slowly moving my way down. I like to brew a proper pot of tea. So here's my considerably smaller teapot that I've decided is only for Oolong.

So I did a bit of searching, but don't know what this type of teapot is called. Until I know, I'm going to call it Compromise. It's not nearly as small as it probably should be, but it's as close as I can get until now.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Oolong Nirvana in the next street over

My plan is still to go into more detail about the teas I was sent by Darjeeling Tea Express, but something excited has come up. I have to talk about it.

Recently, a few different people told me that there was a new tea shop nearby. My hopes were not high. Immediately, my thoughts turned to what sort of shop it might be. My worst nightmare was kitschy knick knacks and assorted artificially flavoured teas. Just in time for the holidays.

I was in for a shock. Immediately as I walked up to the window, it was obvious that my assumptions were all wrong. Here's the Laifufu Teesalon:

The owner is a Taiwanese woman called Pei-Jen, and it was quickly apparent that she was a wealth of information about Oolong tea. This really could not get any better. First I wandered through and admired the teapots and cups on display:

Then at the back of the room there's a little set of tables looking out on the quiet, snowy courtyard. I think you'll find me here quite often in the coming months:

Asked for an Oolong recommendation, and was encouraged to sit and try multiple infusions of a high mountain Oolong called Alishan Zhu Lu. The first infusion was ok, but nothing special. It had a very strong floral smell, but I couldn't taste it. Luckily, each infusion became more floral and more dramatic. Once again, I'm not surprised that I like a tea grown at a high altitude.

While Pei-Jen poured cup after cup, we talked about a wide variety of topics relating to Oolong tea. Wealthy nouveau riche Chinese who come in and buy entire crops of a plantation before the tea has even been processed. Oolong tea being sold on the market as authentic Taiwanese, which is over-priced and potentially not even from Taiwan.

If you happen to be in Munich-Neuhausen, you'll find the Laiffu Teesalon at Maillinger Straße 14, 80636 München (Munich). There's a website still under construction, but I'll go ahead and give the address (http://www.laifufu.de).

I wanted to include a photo of Pei-Jen, but thought it might be overwhelming on the first visit. Nevertheless, here's a photo of the table where we drank the delicious tea I've described:

Sunday, 12 December 2010

all those pretty cans of tea

Whenever I find something in the paper about tea, I feel like the stars are shining down on me. Has absolutely nothing to do with me, but I still feel like I'm being somehow rewarded. It also makes me wonder if there are more tea articles, or if I'm just more aware of them. And finally, I'm curious if it's a German thing or if tea is more in fashion than it was even a short time before. That's where my thoughts are today.

So if I read an interesting article in the German press, I try to mention it here. Sometimes the article is boring. No new ground is covered. In those situations, I don't bother saying anything. There's plenty going on in the world of tea, otherwise.

But today was one of those fortunate days. And the article in Die Welt am Sonntag (The World on Sunday) was in the finance section. It was about investing in tea and, on a related note, how expensive some specialty teas can be.

Investing in tea? Gold certainly. Even some collectibles might be more advisable.

To be fair, neither the journalist nor the people interviewed actually suggested substituting tea for your investment portfolio. The thrust of the article was that Pu-erh tea improves in taste and value as it ages. The very crucial point was also made that there's often no way to verify the origin or the age of the tea that you've bought.

The other thing that was reported earlier in the article was that Germans are drinking more and more tea. Here's how it was phrased, 'The German coffee-drinking nation is discovering more and more the health benefits of this beverage made from dried leaves.'

Granted, some are simply buying the decorative tea cannisters from Mariage Freres at Galeries Lafayette. Simply displaying the tea indicates that you have a cosmopolitan kitchen. I like to think if you were such a person, that eventually you might actually make a cup of tea from the leaves in those pretty cans.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

tea of the Bobo

Had a very interesting conversation with the first guest at the Darjeeling tea tasting I hosted a week ago, but I was so preoccupied with the even that I neglected to ponder what was said before others arrived.

I've known Caroline for years, and we rarely stay on one topic for very long. It seems like when we meet, we start twice as many conversations as we have time to really explore. It means there's always plenty to cover when we pick up where we left off. I knew she'd studied Chinese, and in the early days of this blog, she wrote a comment about Pu-erh. Just based on that comment, I knew she knew was at least moderately into tea.

So, she was the last one invited, the first one to arrive, and she told me a bit of the story about how she got into tea. Since this is one of the topics I like to cover here, my ears perked up when she went into detail. For her, it all started with Bobo tea.

I thought all week about contacting her and asking more about this elusive tea. Today, I saw her at the train station. I had to know more details. What is Bobo tea? How did she discover it?

Well, here's the cliffhanger. She's visiting family in England for the holidays and had no time to go into detail. She'll tell me in the new year.

I've done a bit of research about this tea she mentioned, but to no avail. We'll really have to wait till January to get the whole story. She said it was a mix of green tea and some other teas. Was a black tea involved? I think she said it was. She tasted it one time, was intrigued and when she finally located where to buy it, it could only be ordered in bulk. She had to buy kilos of the stuff to get her fix.

I cannot wait to find out about the mysterious Bobo tea.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the tea maker, for being English. So I gave up doing it.

It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there was no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make. One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but ...”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yeah ...”

We both cracked up...

(source: Op Ed by Yoko Ono in the New York Times 8 December 2010)

Saw 'The Tea Maker' (title of Yoko's piece) out of the corner of my eye as I was skimming the New York Times, and was so glad I stopped to read this. There are a few things that strike me as I read it. First of all, the proper tea etiquette part.

John was absolutely sure of the order of teabags and water, and made a big deal of the fact. Assuming it was black tea, it really doesn't matter whether the water or the teabags go in first (I don't think), but he was sure he'd seen his aunt doing it a certain way and that was the only way.

I see this sort of thing among tea people often. It has to be done this way or that. One website describes exactly how to brew tea, while another offers contradictory information about the same topic.

As I'm writing this, I'm imagining someone pouring boiling hot water onto green tea leaves, and I'm shaking my head and repeating what I've read from multiple sources-that you'll destroy the tea leaves and ruin the green tea's taste. So please don't think that I'm advocating simply ignoring tried and true wisdom about the particular way to brew specific types of tea. I'm not suggesting that at all.

I'm saying that one of the reasons learning about tea is so daunting is that some tea people are simply pedantic about the only way to do things. More than one time, I've heard people tell me they went into a tea shop and were overwhelmed by all the requisite gear and instructions to make a simple cup of tea.

The other thing I liked about what Yoko said was it got me thinking about people close to me who've died or who are very far away. The tiniest moments I remember. The words that were said may or not be able to be accurately reproduced, but the feeling of connection while we maneuvered round one another in the kitchen is what I carry with me.

So as I sip my tea, I'm thinking about all that John left us before he was taken. I'm also thinking about those people who were once close to me. It sounds so trite to say you have to enjoy what you have when you have it, but that's exactly where my thoughts are taking me.

Oh, and water and THEN tea. Really.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

straight from Darjeeling

The people who provided the tea for the tea tasting I did at the weekend are launching the new website, and I want to make a lot of noise about it.

It was already a treasure trove of information about Darjeeling tea. But now they're launching the website and providing authentic Darjeeling tea to be sent anywhere in the world.

Here, you can see it for yourself:


I have to reiterate how reliably and smoothly the tea was delivered. Even in our globalised world, it's still remarkable that the tea was sent last Monday afternoon and easily arrived by Friday afternoon. This is even more surprising considering that we had our first major snow of the year and shipping logistics were a nightmare.

I also like the thought that the people at Darjeeling Tea Express know the growers at the tea estates. I feel much more comfortable where my money is going, when I know someone who has direct contact with the growers.

So, here's the announcement:

Darjeeling Tea Express Launches New Tea Website

Go check them out.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Castleton's coppery cup

Here's a photo of the very beautiful red and even yellow tips of very dark green leaves of Castleton Autumnal Darjeeling.

Because Sir William spoke so highly of autumnal Darjeelings, I was excited to try this as soon as I pulled it out of the package from India. I thought there were only 1st and 2nd flushes for Darjeeling, but am happy to find out about the tea that's plucked after the rainy season. The tea we're dealing with here come from the Castleton Estate. There's a structure, which is still standing on the Castleton Estate., that looks like a castle. Hence the name.

So, I brewed the tea and for once I took a photo of the leaves afterwards. The tea has a very floral smell that didn't lessen on the second infusion. Actually, the tea held up well on the second infusion. It was a bit lighter, but not much. Here's a description of tea from this estate at the Darjeeling Tea Express website:

The teas have (a) rose like fragrance, golden like sun-spun amber and are most prized for their unique "mucatel" comparable to sweet summer wines with intense fragrant top notes of musk.
(source: www.darjeelingteaexpress.com)

The cup colour is coppery, and although the taste is a tad bitter, it's very fresh. There's definitely a muscatel flavour, as well as a hint of citrus. It's certainly lighter than a 2nd flush, but seems a bit stronger than a 1st flush. I doubt I'd start my day with this tea, but it seems perfect for a cold, rainy afternoon like we had today. Even after I'd had two infusions of this tea, I brewed another half pot of it after a long walk in the afternoon. Ultimately, the fact that I went back to it after having already had two pots is a hearty recommendation indeed.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Camellia sinensis-fueled

For those of you waiting on the edge of your seats, the tea tasting went rather well. I waited until people arrived before I even opened the vacuum-packed sacks of tea, and as a result I experienced the tea for the first time during the tasting. There were advantages and disadvantages to that, but I'm sure I'd do it the same way again.

The disadvantage was that I couldn't easily be the impartial observer. I was right in there as one of the guinea pigs being introduced to five new teas in one sitting. Not complaining. Far from it. The thing is that my attention was split between assessing the qualities of the tea and making the others' tasting experience as pleasurable as possible.

So I'll give you a quick overview of the teas right now, and then over the next few days or weeks I'll go back and try these different teas. In the stillness I'll be sure to get a better understanding/description of each one.

Caroline showed up first, and we always seem to have twice as many stories to tell each other than we have time for. As a result, she gets through half of a tale before I've interrupted her with half of one of my tales. It means that we often say goodbye at the end of meeting each other promising to pick up where we left off. This event was no exception. Caroline briefly told most of the story about how she got into tea. She's not much for black tea at all, so I opted for starting with the Kangra Oolong.

It wasn't new to Caroline that in some Asian cultures the first Oolong steeping is poured out in honour of one's ancestors. We joked about not wasting tea, and it's a good thing we didn't discard it because that first pot smelled too good. It tasted a bit light/unremarkable, which is why I want to go back and experiment with this tea in the near future. We did brew it a second time, but that was later in the tasting.

By then Monique and Peter arrived and I was eager to brew the Gopaldhara 2nd flush. I'm partial to these darker Darjeelings, and I wasn't disappointed. As I was pouring it, a few people admitted that they didn't normally drink much black tea. Immediately after my assurances that Darjeeling isn't typical black tea, they had a few sips and were convinced.

Monique and Peter

At about this time Caroline had to go, but Jarrod arrived and took her seat. The discussion veered toward the appearance of the leaves and the Grade specifications of Darjeeling. For example, this Gopaldhara 2nd flush is a FTGFOP, which stand for Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. Everyone was impressed with this tea, but I'd spent so much time talking about the differences between 1st, 2nd and Autumnal flushes that they were eager to move on to the next victim.

As long as we were speaking German, we had no problem with talking about the teas that were plucked most recently right after the rainy season. But as soon as I started saying 'autumnal', we got lost in a fit of giggles. They all knew the word autumn of course, but I have no idea why they thought 'autumnal' was so urkommisch. But they did. The Castleton Autumnal was also one I enjoyed, but didn't get much response from the others. There were no negative comments, but I seemed to be the only one who wanted to wax rhapsodic about its merits.

It was around then that we digressed entirely away from talking about tea. We kept drinking, but the conversation had a life of its own. It was really enjoyable, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the excellent tea was somehow responsible. As I served the Gopaldhara green, Peter told us stories of hitchhiking in the United States. At some point we got into a rather heated debate about how many grams were in a scoop of tea, so we had to get out the scale and compare the weight of the black and Oolong teas. When I think about how much tea and non-tea ground we covered in a few short hours, I'm amazed.

After a second steeping of the Oolong that we'd started with, I brewed the final tea. It was a Goomtee Pre Autumnal flush and the others were really taken by it. I thought the cup colour was much darker, but the taste wasn't nearly as complex as the other black tea we tried. It wasn't bad. Not at all. And maybe when I drink it on its own, I'll see it for its strengths. Like I said, I'll go back through these teas again in the near future and give them a more careful taste.

The whole ordeal was rather enjoyable. The best parts of it were the parts that could never be planned. The conversation was unquestionably Camellia sinensis-fueled. The company was exceptional, and I'd happily have any of these people over again and again.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The tea is in my possession

What a roller coaster of emotions. Was absolutely convinced that the tea for tomorrow's tasting wouldn't arrive in time. Several days ago, it made the lion's share of the journey when it flew from Delhi to Leipzig. I thought we were home free at that point. It's actually in Germany-it'll be here tomorrow. Maybe the next day.

Then the tracking page said it was 'on hold' in cold, snowy Saxony. Didn't they know I needed that tea for a very important event here on Saturday afternoon? Most of the time when I've ordered something online, I'm very nonchalant about when it arrives. It'll be here when it's here. The more logistics are developed in our globalised world, the more astounded I am that things jet around the globe so quickly and easily.

Think about it: Monday afternoon this tea was still sitting in the possession of @DarjeelingTeaXp, a day later it cleared the beaurocracy of the subcontinent (can one still say that word?) and on it's way to the city of J.S. Bach's Thomaskirche. I'm probably making too big a deal of this. Planes fly from continent to continent daily. Not such a big deal, eh? While you're fyling to Germany anyway, could you take this tea with you?

Here's a photo of the package right after it arrived (Can you see the relief on my face?):

So, the tasting is upon us. I've looked up the most common terms used to describe tea generally and Darjeeling specifically, and I found a nice list at the website of our tea supplier, so I thought it'd be appropriate to link to it here:

Terms Describing Tea Liquor

Hope we won't be needing the terms 'sweaty' or 'weedy'. Am rather confident we won't.

Here's a photo of the attractive sacks that the tea were packed in:

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Goomtee Tea Estate

Goomtee enjoys a family relationship with its workers spreading over generations. The Estate had (sic) always ensured the well being of their workers as well as their families. All workers receive free housing and medical care for the family along with the supply of cereals at heavily subsidized prices.

source: DarjeelingTeaExpress.com

So whenever I read something about how well an estate treats its workers, I wonder if that says anything about the other estates that say nothing on the subject. Have read multiple places that generations of tea workers have dedicated their passion to this exceptional tea. I've mentioned blaming Shiva for this tea's unique taste. The empirical among us would explain it away as a matter of the soil and crisp mountain air. In addition to all of that, I'd say one of the truly crucial factors is the people who lovingly tend the tea plant, as well as processing it once it's been picked.

I don't want to get too esoteric here, but sometimes while drinking Darjeeling I do let my thoughts wander to what gentle and experienced hands have manipulated the leaves floating in my teapot. This is exactly the part that cannot be intellectually proven. But if I had to choose between an estate that made a concerted effort to honour its workers and one that didn't see that as such a priority, I can't imagine taking long to decide. I can't imagine who would.

Here's the complete description at Darjeeling Tea Express:

Goomtee Tea Estate

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Careening out of Leipzig

The clearance processing has been completed in Leipzig, and the tea for our Munich tasting is careening it's way toward my teapots. Excitement, eh?

I was just commenting that I've always wanted to see Leipzig. Maybe the vacuum-packed delicious Darjeeling tea can tell me all about it.

Am really getting excited about trying these teas. Salivating has commenced.

Will write more about another tea estate tomorrow.


Just checked to see where the package of tea is. Now the shipment is on hold in Leipzig.

Wonder if this is going to turn into trouble.


Just checked the status of the package, and the Darjeeling tea has made its way from Leipzig to Munich. The tea tasting will go on as planned.