July 30, 2015

Tea Review - Wymm Tea Sheng Pu-erhs - 2013 1st Spring Jingmai and 2010 Spring Kunlu Moutain

Pu-erh is an acquired taste, at least, so I thought until I learned that there is sheng (raw) and shou (cooked) puerhs. My first experience with puerh was with a not every well made sho puerh. I think it was a shou; it tasted like a barnyard. My second experience with puerh was with the guidance of Thesera of T Shop. I drank a white and puerh blend as well as a Banuo raw puerh. Both were very good.

One day I saw on Wymm Tea's Instagram a photo of the company's Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" Sheng Pu-Erh. When I read "cane" I thought of sugarcane (my Caribbean roots showing up). I asked the company for more information about the origin of the Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" tea which they provided as well as samples of four raw puerhs. The Mangnuo Tengtiao "Cane" Sheng Pu-Erh from Ancient Tea Tree 2014 First Spring is one. Another is Bingdao Laozhai Huangpian Sheng Ancient Tea Tree Pu-erh 2014. The third and fourth are the 2013 1st Spring Jingmai and 2010 Spring Kunlu Mountain which are the subject of this review.

My intent was to steep both teas until their end but in the heat I quickly became lightheaded. I infused the Kunlu three times (and prepared the leaves for a cold brew overnight) and infused the Jingmai seven times (and also prepared its leaves for an overnight cold brew). [Editor's note: the cold brews were fantastic!]

The aroma of the Kunlu after a 25 second steep was woodsy and caramel-like. It had an earthy (baby portobello mushrooms cooked in a cast iron skillet) taste and a long finish.  At the 30 second steep, a bark-like flavor emerged. The liquor was dry and smelled of dried fruit. The third infusion for 35 seconds yielded umami notes and stained my cheeks.

The Jingmai grabbed my attention almost immediately. After a rinse, the wet leaves released an aroma of apricots. There was also the sweetness of dried fruit like cherries and plums. This very pleasing aroma disappeared with the first infusion but the liquor had a lingering sweetness. I steeped the leaves for a second time for 30 seconds then a third time for 35 seconds. At the latter, there was a crescendo of flavors including a floral note (it's supposed to be orchid). The liquor was dry and had a long finish. At the 40 second mark, the liquor was still dry but a nutty note emerged, similar to marzipan. The fifth infusion at 50 seconds was fruit heavy. The array of flavors tapered off at 50 seconds and were mostly gone by 60 seconds. I think this was due primarily to the fact that I was experiencing tea drunkenness.

The Jingmai was my favorite of the two raw puerhs reviewed here. I look forward to preparing the other two puerhs.

Puerhs courtesy of Wymm Tea. Thank you.

July 23, 2015

Palais des Thes Grand Cru Tasting

A bit of background about Palais des Thes before the review of four Grand Cru teas. The original Palais des Thes boutique is located in the Marais, described by PdT's marketing manager, Ines Bejot, as the "most charming place of Paris." There are 35 shops worldwide with half in France and five of these located in Paris. The shops outside of France are located in tea producing or tea drinking countries. PdT founder Francois-Xavier Delmas travels to the growers that supply tea to the company and blogs about his trips at Discovering Tea.

I had the pleasure of taking a Grand Cru tea class with tea master Cynthia Chovet. The Grand Cru Tasting is one of four classes offered at the Palais des Thes Tea School. Cynthia has many years of experience in the food and beverage industry. I was surprised to learn that she has only been with Pdt for one year; she spoke knowledgeably and passionately about the company. Cynthia's approach to the class was great! She spoke about the company, tea-ware, and the tea types and their regions, but waited for Ines and I to talk about what we tasted in each tea before offering her observations.

Four teas were prepared during the class: Silver Needle, Tawaramine Shincha Ichibancha 2015, Bao Zhong Antique 1999 (!), and Jukro.You read the year 1999 correctly. This oolong was aged for over 15 years, but I will provide more detail later on the post.

Silver Needle

Also known as Yinzhen, this Fujian white tea is made only of buds. Look at all those silvery white hairs! Even after steeping, many of the leaves remained in their original state with prominent hairs. The liquor tasted of woodsmoke and chestnuts with a sweet finish. As the tea cooled, I detected notes of green like conifer needles, specifically juniper and pine.

Tawaramine Shincha Ichibancha 2015

I felt fortunate to be able to taste a Spring 2015 Shincha! The dried leaves smelled heavenly with a deep sweet and cream aroma. The leaves appeared to leave a sort of resin on the interior of the canister. The liquor tasted like steamed spinach and mussels as well as fresh seaweed. The shincha had a long finish; the liquor stained my cheeks.

Bao Zhong Antique 1999

The antique version of Baozhong, a Taiwanese oolong, is created through a yearly refiring. The non-aged version of this tea is Bao Zhong Imperial. The steeped leaves of the Antique smelled of charred wood with a cherry aroma at the end. It was an astringent tea. Its taste is also big and bold like a California red wine.


Coincidentally, we had the best tea at the end of the tasting. Korean black teas are unusual. This tea tastes heavily of chocolate! The dried leaves smell of chocolate and the liquor tastes of chocolate cake (Cynthia) and molten brownie (Ines). Cynthia detected a nutty flavor. I detected a floral note. The PdT website offers rose geranium as a possibility. With its berry undertone, the tea reminded of a single origin 72-80% chocolate bar.

Thinking about tea and cheese pairings, I asked Cynthia for a cheese recommendation for the Jukro, and teas in general. She suggested identifying the note you want to highlight and finding a cheese with a similar flavor profile to make a match. Here's a pairing she recommends: Challerhocker, a nutty Swiss cheese, with Longjing. Cynthia's husband is a cheesemonger in Darien, Connecticut!

Grand Cru Tasting Class courtesy of Palais des Thes. Thank you.

P.S. Tea and cheese pairings at French Cheese Board and at In Pursuit of Tea.

July 21, 2015

Tea Campaign Canada Darjeelings

As a member of the German Teekampagne, Tea Campaign Canada has adopted a four-step model to bring Darjeeling from tea gardens to tea drinkers:
We are focused on a single type of tea
We buy in bulk, directly from tea gardens
We sell most of our tea after the arrival of a new harvest
We sell in large packages

I sampled four Tea Campaign Darjeelings this month: 'Selected Darjeeling' Harvest Blend 2014, First Flush 2014 Blend, First Flush 2014 'Pussimbing', and Second Flush 2014 Blend, all FTGFOP-1. Aren't the leaves of the Harvest Blend 2014, pictured above, pretty?

I had a challenging time steeping the Harvest Blend 2014 using the recommended 2g of tea leaves to 250mL of water to my satisfaction. What finally worked for me was 1 teaspoon for me, 1 teaspoon for a guest, and 1 teaspoon for the pot in about 325mL of water. This preparation yielded a robust cup of Darjeeling.

To prepare the First Flush 2014 Blend I used 2 teaspoons of leaves to 250 mL of water and steeped for 3 minutes. (Initially I used a tasting cup but the proportions were not successful.) The leaves when first wet had the aroma of a shincha. Yes! The liquor was very dry with a nutty (almond) finish. It was also green, like if one were to chew on a plant stem.

The dominant note of the First Flush 2014 'Pussimbing' was herbal. I also tasted notes of tropical fruit without the sweetness. This tea was slightly dry with a long finish.

With the Second Flush 2014 Blend I expected bolder flavors (though not as bold as a fall flush). However, this Darjeeling was my least favorite. I only detected a light maple syrup flavor.

The first flushes were my favorite of the four Darjeelings. Are you a Darjeeling drinker? How do you prepare a cup of Darjeeling?

Find the Tea Campaign Canada shop here.

Tea courtesy of Tea Campaign Canada. Thank you.

July 16, 2015

Afternoon Tea - Mandarin Oriental New York

The view from the Lobby Lounge of the Mandarin Oriental was of Columbus Circle and the southern edge of Central Park. Stunning. My photo does not do it justice. I went with Jee and Sara (read Jee's review here).

There were seven teas on the menu -- one white, two greens, one oolong, two blacks, an herbal and a rose blend signature tea. I enjoyed watching Sara and Jee photograph the tea setting. Scones were served first, and as Jee noted in her review, this is unusual. However, the scones were served warm, were perfectly sized, with Devonshire cream and jams on the side.

The savories were very good, too! Fresh bread, fresh fillings, and nicely portioned. I could have eaten more than my share.

I liked the presentation of the sweets. The three-tiered O-shaped tray (for Oriental, I assume) was a good fit with the modern decor of the lounge. My sweet tooth tends to steer towards chocolate but my favorite of the pastries was the green tea mousse topped cake. If you can believe it, the chocolate confection pictured in the lower right was too sweet.

I always enjoy afternoon tea with Jee and Sara. The view from the Lobby Lounge was a bonus. It's okay if you aren't seated at a table adjacent to the windows; you can walk over to the windows to take in the park's lush canopy.

July 07, 2015

Tea Tasting with Silver Needle Tea Co.

Almost a month ago I had the pleasure of a tea tasting with Lucy of Silver Needle Tea Co. and Sara of Tea Happiness. Over three teas we talked about teas, of course, product design, travel, and family.

Lucy used various tea-ware to prepare Dragon Well (Spring 2015), Big Red Robe, and Golden Eyebrow. The teas were served in ceramic cups and stemless glassware. First, the Golden Eyebrow (Jin Jun Mei). My notes read, "So much chocolate!" Enough said about this Wuiy lapsing souchong.

On to the other tea from Wuyi. The Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) also has notes of (dark) chocolate both flavor and aroma-wise. On the tongue it was dry and sweet like cherries with notes of caramel and campfire. Typical of Wuyi oolongs, the leaves of the Big Red Robe are twisted not rolled.

The first tea we drank was a Spring 2015 Dragon Well (Long Jing). It was buttery and really great on the second steep. Lucy noted that in general second steepings are "like a person -- warmer the second time you meet them."

The next time you see a Silver Needle Tea Co. canister up close, take many moments to appreciate its construction. Lucy described the iterative design process as very intense. The canister is a telescoping column with colors specific to tea type and embossed labelling. What a keepsake if you got the Complete Experience of four whole leaf teas in the company's signature canisters!

Lucy was kind enough to give a Jetsetter Tea Set on parting. While I haven't prepared any of the sachets yet, I like opening the tin and breathing deeply of the big aromas of oolong and black teas contained within this small package.

Thank you Lucy for taking the time to drink and talk tea with me (and Sara).