Yesterday morning I got an email from one of my personal tea gurus. It included a list of the tea books in his own library (including title, author, publication information, etc.)
The list covered 208 books.
It had everything from Novelty Teapots: Five Hundred Years of Art and Design and Afternoon Tea Cakes, Tasty Sandwiches and Sweetmeats to the entire opposite end of the tea-book spectrum (if there is such a thing) with volumes like The Effect of Plant Mineral Nutrition on Yield and Quality of Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis L.) Under Field Conditions and Specification of HDPE Woven Sacks–A New Alternative Packaging Material for Tea.
Holy crap I’ve got a lot to read…
Friday I sat down with Shiuwen and David at Floating Leaves Tea to taste teas from Ali Shan (阿里山) that Shiuwen had just brought back from Taiwan. We tasted it in the method of Taiwan tea buyers–leaves loose in a bowl, with a spoon to dip, smell, and dish out a sample into your own cup. This method allows a taster to see the development of a brew over time, instead of just at a particular moment when the tea timer goes off.
Let me start by saying they were all wonderful lightly-oxidized, rolled oolongs. Like most teas of this type, the flavor was somewhat green and vegetal with a hint of floral. But even though all four came from Ali Shan, they each had their own character.
- Ali Shan Ding Hu (about $11/ounce). This is from a new growing area on the mountain around 1700 meters in altiutde. My first impression was that it had a sugary taste to it–not necessarily the sweetness of fruit, but like the high clear flavor of granulated white sugar. Good flavor, smooth, great aroma. (When I smelled the dry leaves the first time I recoiled a little–in a good way–because it was surprisingly heady.)
- Ali Shan Lao Jizi “A” (about $24/oz.). This was the king of the hill, so to speak. It stood up to the water very well, and David pointed out to me a hint of citrus flavor in with the more vegetal taste of tea. At first, I found it to be like the citrus of lemon juice, but as the tea continued to steep, it became more like citrus zest. It had what I’ve been told is called “labduz” in Persian: a mild and pleasant astringency.
- Ali Shan Lao Jizi (about $17/oz). This tea is a more every-day production from Lao Jizi’s farm. It was a little more oxidized and a little more strongly roasted, both of which combined to make it fruitier than the others. It reminded me ever so slightly of the crust of blackberry pie (last year’s Dong Ding from Floating Leaves strongly reminded me of fruit pie crust). Shiuwen said it reminded her of last year’s Da Yu Lin. While this might not have been the highest quality possible, it was my favorite based on flavor.
- Fragrant Ali Shan (about $10/oz). The Fragrant Ali Shan was true to its name, producing a lovely fragrance. In comparison, however, the flavor was a little more woody/roasty than I had expected. Perhaps it was because of the longer-than-usual stems included with the leaf. While we tasted these, a customer came into the shop, bought this tea to drink, and said they loved it.
In this, my first Tea Geek blog post, I want to tell a story about how brewing matters. I have a part-time “day job” at the Perennial Tea Room in Seattle’s Pike Place market. People ask all the time if it really matters what kind of pot you brew in, or how hot the water is. This is my story about why the answer to this question is “yes.”
We got samples of the spring 2007 pickings of Baozhong (包種) and Jinxuan (‘golden lily’). Four days ago, I weighed a pennyweight of each tea and brewed it in the standard tea industry brewing cups for five minutes each at 175 degree water. The result was extremely light and not very interesting at all. I left the Baozhong in the water for another five minutes to see if that would make a difference. It didn’t much–although it did develop a slightly more typical baozhong flavor, it was still VERY light.
Next, I brewed them in a small Chatsford pot with water at 175 degrees, again for five minutes. The result? Same as the first time. So we called our vendor and asked “what’s up?” (Tea does take some time to “settle in” when it gets to a new home, so we asked if it might be brewing light because our samples had just touched down the day before.) We were told to try brewing in a gaiwan (Chinese lidded tea bowl/cup) with hotter water.
Yesterday, we tried the Jinxuan with the recommended vessel and water temperature (4 grams of tea for 4 ounces of 195-degree water, 5 minutes). The difference was huge–the flavor was wonderful and we were able to give 4 or 5 serviceable brewings out of it.
My theory (since the international standard brewing cup, the Chatsford pot, and the gaiwan are all glazed porcelain) is that the primary difference was the water temperature in the vast difference between the Monday and Thursday brewings.
…and welcome to the Tea Geek blog!