July 26, 2016

Tea Review - Totem Tea Ruby 18

Have you ever considered about blogging about one type of tea? Not a class of tea like Taiwanese oolong or Japanese green tea but a specific cultivar? Ruby 18 has its own website! Ruby 18 is a black tea from the Sun Lake Moon area in Taiwan. The cultivar, a cross between Camellia sinensis var. assamica and the Chin Shin cultivar originally from Taiwan, was developed by the Taiwan Tea Research and Experiment Station and released in 1999.

The Ruby 18 I drank is from Totem Tea. The Ruby 18 profile runs the gamut of the flavor wheel. Floral, fruit, woody, and herbaceous. The long, wiry, and black dry leaves smell sweet, like maple and dried fruit, and malty. The liquor is not ruby red but it's on the Assam spectrum.

I steeped 5 grams of the 7 gram sample in 195F water in a 6 ounce capacity taiwan. I rinsed the leaves for 5 seconds then steeped for 60 seconds. The liquor was copper, reddish amber. I detected flowers and camphor or menthol though not mint. I've read that this note could be licorice. I don't enjoy licorice but I do like this tea. The second steep was also 60 seconds. The liquor tasted of camphor, freshly sawn cedar, and deep dried fruit (think prunes). The earlier floral aroma might have been spearmint flowers. The tea was slightly dry and overall woody and spicy. The infused leaves smelled of menthol. The third and fourth steeps of 60 seconds yielded a dry liquor with a cooling sensation.

The camphor note was heightened after steeping the leaves for 3 minutes. There was a pleasant bitterness. The infused leaves smelled of maple syrup. The next steep also of 3 minutes also yielded camphor notes with tail notes of hops and walnut. The final steep of 5 minutes still produced camphor and hops notes as well as malt flavor.

Ruby 18 is a unique, complex tea. It is highly enjoyable to drink. The wealth of notes it yields is impressive. You can drink this tea as I did hot in the summer because of the cooling effect. The woody and dried fruit notes might be amplified in colder months.

Tea courtesy of Totem Tea.

P.S. It was my intention to post my tasting notes of three Bai Hao oolongs including one from Totem Tea but my #ITEIteaschool binder is in one of the unpacked moving boxes without an itemized list of contents.

July 21, 2016

Favorite Tea Ware - A Taste of Mz Priss

As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the chasen to the yixing teapot. Everyone has their favorites! This series showcases the favorite teaware of folks in the tea blogging community as well as people who enjoy drinking tea. It's a pleasure to share the favorite tea ware of Mz Priss of the (occasional) blog A Taste of Mz Priss. She has been seriously drinking tea since 2010 and has a serious addiction to beautiful teaware. Her tea heart belongs to middle aged shengs and great oolong, especially yancha.

This gaiwan was my very first and remains my very favorite. When I started drinking puer, I was improvising with a glass pyrex custard cup and little flower-shaped tea bag holder as the top. I decided I needed some proper tools and went searching on Amazon. I had beginner's luck with this one. I can't find it anymore so I'm really glad I snatched it when I did.

Two of my passions are tea and rocks. Most of the tea session photos I post on Instagram have a crystal or two in them. This piece combines both of my loves - it is a cup carved from lapis lazuli. I got it from Ebay and it is so special that I only drink one tea from this cup. The tea is Rivendell from Whispering Pines and it is as lovely as this cup.

This gaiwan set has a ruyao (ru) glaze that develops crackles as you use it over time. I adore the lotus shape. I use this set often and it becomes more beautiful to me the more I use it.

This pot is a very recent acquisition. When I saw a beautiful pot that my very best tea friend got from Crimson Lotus last year, I asked Glen of Crimson Lotus to keep an eye out for a small (no larger than 125 ml) gorgeous pot with beautiful carving on it. He came through mightily! This beauty is a handmade jian shui pot that has not been polished to smoothness with stones on the outside. I love this texture, the amazing carving and the shipaio shape.

This very sweet little set came fromTaiwan Tea Crafts and I use it ALL the time. It has an ash glazed finish and it goes perfectly with the rainbow cups from Teaware House. I love the little tea boat.

Thank you very much to Mz Priss for sharing five of her favorite tea objects. She told me it was a difficult decision. I have been wishing for a rice pattern gaiwan, have seen the rectangular sharing vessel all over social media, and because I went to the Lotus and Water Lily Festival at the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens last weekend, am drawn to the lotus teapot.

P.S. The Favorite Tea Ware series will take a break in August and return in September. Read all the posts in the series here.

July 14, 2016

Tea Review - Three Chinese Spring Green Teas from Teavivre

Green teas account for more than 70% of tea production in China according to the authors of Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. Given this statistic it makes sense that the majority of China's 10 famous teas are green teas. The actual number ranges from four to six out of 10. Also, the teas on these top 10 lists are inconsistent. However, Long Jing always makes the list and is usually listed first. Lucky for me, I received Long Jing from Teavivre as well as two other of their spring green teas, Tian Mu Yu and Lu Shan Yun Wu.

I prepared the teas tandem style but I did not have identical tea vessels. I need three identical gaiwans! The Long Jing and Tian Mu Yun Wu were infused in two different professional cupping sets (4 oz/120mL; 5 oz/150 mL). The  Lu Shan Yun Wu was steeped in a 5 oz (150 mL) gaiwan. I used 2 g of each tea, 4 oz of 175F water, with a steep time of 3 minutes. My notes today are from the first cupping of each of the teas. Don't worry, I did not discard the leaves after one cupping.

Long Jing - Premium 
Xihu, Hangzhou, Zhejiang
The brewing guide for this tea called for 185F water for 1-5 minutes but see my infusion protocol above. The dry leaves smelled sweet and of hay. They were 1" in length, flat, and in various shades of light green. The infused leaves smelled grassy. I could identify two leaves and bud. The liquor was slightly bitter. I don't think a Long Jing should be bitter but it was not unpleasant. The bitterness could be a misidentified vegetal flavor. I also detected astringency but this is common for Long Jing. The color of the tea was a light yellow green. The liquor was shiny and transparent. The various notes lingered on my tongue.

Tian Mu Yun Wu - Organic
Tianmu Mountain, Lin’an County, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang
The brewing guide for this tea called for 185F water for 5-8 minutes but see my infusion protocol above. The dry leaves were sweet and vegetal. Each twisted, wiry, dark green leaf was approximately 1". The infused leaf released vegetal smells and were emerald green and quite long. The liquor tasted vegetal, steamed asparagus came to mind, but also sweet. I was reminded of dried seaweed, too. The light green liquor was dry and had a cooling effect.

Lu Shan Yun Wu
Lushan, Jiangxi
The brewing guide for this tea called for 176F water for 3-5 minutes but see my infusion protocol above. The dry leaves were sweet and nutty. I really like this combination. The leaves are small, curly, and dark green. The infused leaves are emerald green and smell slightly roasted. The leaf stems were noticeable at this stage. The liquor also had a roasted taste. In addition, it was dry, vegetal, and sweet. So much here to like. The tea was a light green; I expected a more intense color given all these flavors emerging from this tea. The mouthfeel was round and the flavors lingered. I steeped the leaves two more times, each for 30 seconds. The second short infusion produced nutty and vegetal notes. What I was expected was the mineral note that emerged in the first short infusion.

The Lu Shan Yun Wu was neither premium nor organic but it is my favorite of these three spring teas. Did you know that Lushan is a mountain range set among clouds and mist (or yunwu)? Do you have any favorite green teas this spring?

Teas courtesy of Teavivre. You can view all their Spring 2016 teas here.

July 12, 2016

Tasting Bai Lin Congfu from Totem Tea and Joseph Wesley Tea

With my sweet tooth and love of chocolate, I have an affinity for teas with chocolate notes such as Bai Lin Congfu. The tea is named for the city of Bailin in which this style of tea originated. It is a Fujianese black tea prepared from Fuding Da Bai or Da Hao cultivars. I received several teas from Totem Tea including a Bai Lin. Fortunately I also had Bai Lin I had purchased from Joseph Wesley Tea. The two made for a delicious tandem tasting. Keep reading for my impressions.

This was not a professional cupping of two Bai Lin teas. I used two dissimilar vessels. One is a thick porcelain gaiwan with a 6 ounce capacity. The other is a thinner porcelain houhin. I used 150 mL (or 5 oz) of 195F water in both. The weight of dry leaves was approximately 4.5 grams. The Bai Lin teas looked very similar: reddish black and gold colored narrow, needle shaped, slightly curled leaves. I steeped the leaves four times, each time for 30 seconds. The fourth infusion yielded a ghostly version of each tea. I use JWT to refer to Joseph Wesley Tea and Totem as shorthand for Totem Tea.

Infusion #1

Totem: A light amber liquor yielded chocolate and malt smells with an aroma of milk chocolate. The infused leaves smelled like wood and chocolate. I think the maltiness I detected would be described by some as sweet potato or yam.

JWT: The liquor was a darker amber than the Totem with a deeper taste and dryer effect more like cocoa powder and grape must. The infused leaves smelled of chocolate and fruit.

Infusion #2

Totem: The liquor has a similar hue to infusion no. 1 with more expansive flavors of milk chocolate, malt, and honey. The liquor was dryer than in the first steep and lingered on the tongue. There was a floral quality which I could not identify but it might be of cherry blossoms. The company's tasting notes mention cherry.

JWT: Cocoa and a roasted grain sweetness were the dominant flavors in the liquor. The liquor was still dry and the fruit was definitely raisin.

About the infused leaves: The infused leaves were more intact and longer than those of the JWT tea. The Totem tea was steeped in the houhin which is wider and more shallow. The JWT tea was infused in the taiwan which is deeper and narrower. Also, I used the last of the tea in the JWT tea for this tasting.

Infusion #3

Totem: A much darker, dryer liquor of milk chocolate. Woody notes emerged and lingered on the back of the tongue.

JWT: The liquor was still dry and fruit forward but with fewer lingering tail notes.

Do I recommend one Bai Lin black tea over the other?

No, I don't. The Bai Lin Congfu from Joseph Wesley Tea has been a long time favorite. However, I enjoyed the Bai Lin Gong Fu from Totem Tea. The overall flavor profile of each of these Bai Lin blacks is different. The Totem Bai Lin has a mellower start. As it progresses, it is earthy, woody, and sweet. The JWT Bai Lin is immediately robust. It is sweet and fruit forward but balanced by alternating starchy and malty notes. The most enjoyable liquor from both teas was infusion no. 2.

Sources & Further Reading
Bai Lin Gong Fu [Totem]
Bai Lin Congfu [JWT]
Bailin Gongfu Black Tea – An Overview [Teavivre]
Bailin Gongfu Black Tea [Teavivre]
Bailin Gongfu [In Pursuit of Tea]
Taste, Texture and Aroma Part Two: Black Tea & the Savory Flavor Spectrum [Verdant Tea]

P.S. There are several ways to write this tea name: Bai Lin Gongfu, Bai Lin Gong Fu, Bailin Gongfu, and Bai Lin Congfu. I do not know the variant that is considered correct. I have used Bai Lin Congfu in the past so do so here for consistency.

P.P.S. I drank both samples of the Totem Tea Bai Lin Gong Fu without taking many photos. I was too busy drinking the tea.

July 07, 2016

Ceylon Tea Festival at the Embassy of Sri Lanka

Tea is the most consumed beverage after water. I think this is a well known fact among tea drinkers. What is less well known perhaps is that Sri Lanka is the third largest producer of tea. Beyond this output value, Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, Ambassador for Sri Lanka to the USA, argued, Sri Lanka produces "tea with conscience!" The story of Sri Lanka's teas and the virtues of its production were extolled at the recent Ceylon Tea Festival hosted at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington, D.C. The embassy relocated to its new home at 3025 Whitehaven Street six months ago. (There are several embassies on Whitehaven Street which runs perpendicular to Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.)

The Ceylon Tea Festival began with mingling and some tea tasting which was followed by a series of formal presentations by Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam; Peter Goggie, President, Tea Association of the USA;  David De Candia, Ceylon Tea Ambassador to the USA and Canada (appointed by the Sri Lanka Tea Board); Mr. Navin Dissanayake, Minister of Plantation Industries, Sri Lanka; and Mrs. Premala Srikanth, Director of Promotion, Sri Lanka Tea Board. Most of the speakers highlighted the importance of storytelling to promoting the Ceylon tea brand. Sri Lanka produces very good tea, as do other tea producing countries. However, several factors distinguish Ceylon tea from other teas: its commitment to sustainability, ethical production (an eight-hour workday and no child labor), and handpicked harvesting and orthodox manufacturing (Sri Lanka is the number one producer of orthodox tea). Another memorable feature of the presentation was a PR video with the tagline: "Pure enchantment in a cup." I like that line. I hope the Sri Lanka Tea Board will produce different versions of the video to appeal to more diverse audiences.

Tea tasting, socializing, and eating began in earnest at the conclusion of the formal portion of the festival. I sampled water from Sri Lanka's golden skinned coconuts. Sri Lanka Gold is refreshing! Elephantea caught my eye. Charismatic megafauna - check. Tea with an environmental and social mission - check. Did you know elephants used to clear paths on tea plantations? The company's founders wanted to reconnect elephants and tea. A percentage of profits are donated to elephant conservation including the Orange Blossom project. Another did you know: DYK that elephants don't like citrus? Farms are being ringed with orange trees to deter elephant trespass. The next table over featured Pure Nature teas which looked great but the company did not offer samples. I drank the iced tea and the two hot teas at the Walters Bay table. The iced tea is their biggest seller. The hot teas were loose orthodox leaf Ceylon Pekoe Noori Garden Mark and Ceylon OPA Maliboda Garden Mark. Both were very good but my preference was for the OPA which had more of a fruity profile. My favorite of two teas from Amba Estate, Tippy Golden Orange Pekoe OP1, was also fruit forward.

Image: Sri Lanka Specialty Teas, June 30, 2015, via Sri Lanka Tea Board Facebook Page
I capped my tasting with Sri Lanka's seven specialty teas which represent the "agro-climatic" regions of the country. The teas ranged from the lightest and most delicate in Nuwura Eliya to the most robust in Ruhuna. In between are Uda Pusellawa, Dimbula, Uva, Kandy, and Sabaragamuwa. I particularly enjoyed Kandy and Uva. Between tasting these teas and navigating the other guests I wasn't able to get a clear photograph of the tea-filled glass teapots. The display was very striking!

Attending was a treat and a special opportunity to sample Ceylon teas. All the teas were new to me. I enjoyed the setting very much. The only other time I have been inside an embassy was to renew my passport. Have you had a chance to drink tea in an embassy?
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