18 Tasting Notes
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2014/01/organic-darjeeling-selimbong-2013-first.html
Name: Organic Darjeeling Selimbong
Origin: Selimbong Garden, Darjeeling, India
Flush: First Flush
Harvest Year: 2013
Type: Black Tea
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 3 minutes, sipped plain
Has this ever happened to you: You learn, you practice, you learn and practice some more, you start to master, you work very hard and devote a ton of energy, maybe you even teach a little (or, perhaps, you really just pontificate to however many of your friends will listen), you build a reputation, you exhaust countless nooks and crannies of whatever the subject is, and then, when you think you are finally approaching the pinnacle, you stumble almost mistakenly into a big pile of knowledge or understanding that you never even thought to consider might be an existent phenomenon. It happened to me recently. Not that I ever thought I knew everything about tea, I promise. But the “insights” into which I tripped and fell head first were so simple that it is absurd I should never have thought to consider them. Some people emerge from the scenario above knowing that they have discovered new, uncharted depths and forever altered their fields of inquiry; in my case, on the other hand, the word “duh” is quite apt.
There were two new items of information revealed as I read up on Darjeeling tea. The first is that Darjeeling tea has a protected designation of origin, or “GI tag” (“geographical indication tag”), as the Tea Board of India calls it. Tea certified to have been legitimately grown in the Darjeeling region and processed properly receives a seal from the Board to certify its authenticity, and no other tea may call itself “Darjeeling” or receive the seal. Wine and spirits of course have such things, and I learned last year that coffee does, too. I never even asked if tea might, and shame on me for that.
India has a few GI tags for tea, actually, including Assam and Nilgiri (as well as a handful of tea-growing regions without such commercial protection). But Darjeeling tea was the first to get a GI tag, and for good reason: people who drink tea have long thought it the best. As with most protected designations of origin, Darjeeling tea’s came about because there was a major problem with fraudulent labeling; that is, a significant amount of tea being sold around the world was labeled as Darjeeling but, in fact, contained little to no legitimate Darjeeling-grown tea. Naturally, this was because the “Champagne of teas,” as Darjeeling tea is known, was simply the most preferred among paying customers. Consequently, it became the first ever Indian product of any kind to receive a GI tag. To this day, Darjeeling remains the darling of the Tea Board of India, as any perusal of its website will show, and it is one of the very few single-region teas that mega tea brands (Bigelow, Twinings) market to the masses. Darjeeling tea’s fame and popularity endure, and for good reason.
The world’s producers of tea would do well, I think, to invest more time and energy into getting their products protected designations of origin, much as Darjeeling has. It is expensive and time-consuming, yes. But consumers generally are more informed about their products than they have ever been, and the legions of tea aficionados specifically are growing rapidly. The drink’s importance, once upon a time, used to be the fact that tea – any tea – was in the cup on such social occasions as tea time in Buckingham palace, a knitting club meeting in the American Midwest, or anything in between. The details of the tea were rarely a matter of comment, and if they were, it had to do with outside flavoring, such as with Earl Grey. Such things are still of great import, of course. But they are not the future. In the face of plateaued interest in tea as a centerpiece of formal gathering, tea is experiencing increased technical interest: Where is the tea from? What kind of tea is it? Is it authentic? How was it processed? Is it organic and/or fair trade? How much caffeine is in it? What are its health benefits? What is the history of this variety? What else can I learn about it? These are the questions that people are asking, and a designation of origin, though certainly no simple or direct ticket to fame and fortune, is precisely the kind of thing that gets consumers’ attention and tells them what they want to know. And of course, it protects legitimate tea producers from fraudsters intruding upon their market share. It would only be a boon for consumers, producers, and merchants alike.
The other item I learned – and it really is preposterous that I never even thought of this – is that teas from different years’ harvests taste different. Not radically different by any means, but naturally different, according to the differing weather patterns, soil conditions, etc. that accompany the advance of time. This got me thinking: Why are teas, and coffees for that matter, not labeled with a harvest year?
With wine, it has always been standard procedure to list the year on the bottle, even for blends. But with coffee and tea, that was never really how it worked. There are craft coffee and tea movements aplenty, but consumers and professionals alike are so accustomed to the mass-produced blends, designed to reduce taste variation over time to practically zero, with which we all grew up and which we still encounter with great frequency, that it has not really been demanded of anyone to label coffee or tea as being from a particular year.
To the coffee and tea connoisseur, there is a better explanation for this that will occur immediately and appear quite obvious. Wine, you see, ages. It can be kept on the shelf for a few years, a few years more, decades perhaps, and either drunk, sold, or stored yet longer. Furthermore, wine is not even distributed before it has aged for a long while, usually a year at bare minimum. What with most serious wine consumers, collectors, and merchants having hundreds or thousands of bottles of wine on hand, procured after being stored at the winery for years in the first place, a harvest year on the label is a most convenient datum. Coffee and tea, on the other hand, are not meant for that. Tea may last a while in brick form, or if kept in airtight containers, but it is intended for more or less immediate distribution and foreseeable consumption. Coffee especially has a brief shelf life, being ideally drunk within a couple weeks of being roasted. But let’s be generous and stipulate that the mass-produced coffee that sits in warehouses for up to months on end is somehow legitimate. Still, after a year or two, coffee or tea would almost certainly be no good unless kept in the very best of conditions. Which begs the question: what producer, merchant, or enthusiast would store coffee or tea away for so long in the first place? So why even bother with a year on the label? The coffee or tea is between one week and two years old, and either it tastes properly fresh or it does not. Isn’t that all that counts in this discussion?
My response to that is to return to the consumer profile described above. Casual imbibing of coffee and tea is as popular as it has always been, but not growing very much. It is not where the potential is in the market; it is not the future. Aficionados, on the other hand, are on the rise. More and more consumers are switching from major chains to craft coffee roasters and fine tea purveyors. More than ever before, they notice origins, processing methods, taste profiles, and numerous other data. They read the literature, and look for the new. Key here is that they record experiences more than ever: Is it only the emergence of the Internet that gave rise to Steepster and Coffee Review, or is it also the fact that people are there to take interest and participate in the first place?
By including a harvest year among the data for tea and coffee, merchants would not necessarily distinguish it from other tea and coffee sitting next to it on the shelf like with wine, of course. But, they would:
-Confirm the freshness of the product.
-Give consumers a sense of something new, thereby keeping up interest (“Oh, the 2014 Assam is here,” as opposed to, “Oh, Assam is here again.”).
-Create the likelihood that reviewers will mention harvest years in their reviews. This sudden consciousness of a new variable would make them increasingly interested in continuing to consume from the same region to observe firsthand the differences and similarities among the years, as any good aficionado would be. It would also mean that readers of reviews would be drawn back into that product by becoming conscious of the new variable. (“Oh, is that what there is to taste from the 2014? It’s different than what I tasted that other time,” as opposed to, “Oh, is that what this guy tastes? It’s different than what I tasted that other time.”). Finally, producers and merchants can mine the data for all it is worth.
Maybe it is the old product data manager in me (my old position when I had a day job, before I switched to a full-time school schedule), but I really do think that more attention to authenticating and publicizing the variables of tea and coffee is the best way to draw people in to the product.
Anyhow, on to the good stuff: It is time to explore the tea that finally got me to learn and think. McNulty’s was kind enough to confirm for me that this tea was harvested in 2013. The dry leaves of the Selimbong garden’s first flush are rather pastel hued, dark, all twisted tightly but alternately curled up or straight and long. Packed into the glass jar, the visual texture is akin to that of a Van Gogh painting. In stark contrast to the Darjeeling leaves that I reviewed in 2012, which had an aroma like wine and fruit, these leaves smell like a rainforest. There is some caramel, some tannins, some traditional florals, but mostly the rich maltiness that one might expect from, say, a huge mouthful of the dry leaves.
The brewed Darjeeling tea has a rich, smooth, brown color, like a deep, dark honey. The aroma is of sweet, sweet florals. Specific notes are smooth and include principally honey and flowers, with light hints of toffee and caramel as well. The palate offers a light body, although I was not confident noting that at first because there is such a thoroughly generous symphony of flavors that together with the malt they actually make the body of the tea seem rich! It took a little while before my mouth was able to sort it all out. Truly it is a most impressive, sophisticated, and unique tapestry that is woven, and I was reminded yet again why Darjeeling tea is my favorite black tea. (Well, some would say it is an oolong, but you know…)
Could it be that in my prior Darjeeling tea review, when I thought the tea was rich and thick, I was deluded by a similar phenomenon? I suppose it is quite possible.
The tea is not too acidic, not too tannic, not too malty (although the malt augments some as it cools), and not too brisk: just enough of each. The prior Darjeeling tea had some fruit flavors that are absent from this year’s crop. The 2013 offers good floral notes, though they are not quite as sweet as in the aroma. The flavor notes are of toasted things: toasted toffee, toasted caramel, even toasted marshmallow. Again, the body of the tea is light. It has a light body and constitution, even a light heart and soul – the flavors are bright, sprightly, and numerous. It is really curious how such a light body flatters the swirling bouquet of spirited tasting notes. The palate is balanced and even throughout, but it smooths out as the tea cools. The finish is of caramel and florals, with a drop of honey.
I recommend to all of my kind readers to get some Darjeeling tea – authentic Darjeeling tea, that is – and compare it to teas past and teas future. It will make for an exciting, and delicious, adventure.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2013/08/organic-sencha-from-new-leaf-tea-co.html
Name: Organic Sencha
Type: Green Tea
Purveyor: A New Leaf Tea Emporium
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of 180-degree water for 2:30, sipped plain
I just might be the worst Long Islander ever. Having lived here for my entire life, I nevertheless continue to get lost on the Nassau Expressway, confuse Woodbury and Westbury, say nice things about the Long Island Railroad, wonder where on earth the Bethpage Parkway goes to, not get what’s so great about the Walt Whitman Mall, misspell Hauppauge, mispronounce Quogue, and balk at going to the outlets. It is a small miracle that they have yet to sentence me to permanent residence in Queens.
Here is another way in which I am just the worst sort of person to call himself a Nassau County local: up until a few weeks ago, I had never been to Garden City. Oh, sure, I was familiar with Roosevelt Field and all that jazz. Beautiful mall if you are not too picky about the ZIP code in which you park. But I mean, I had never been to the part of Garden City along Franklin Avenue: beautiful tree-lined streets, quaint shops with wonderful wares, cafes and bistros and restaurants, sidewalk eating in warm weather, bustle without hustle, a quiet ambiance… One would never guess that eight or nine blocks south lies the unfortunate neighborhood of Hempstead.
Right off of Franklin, on Seventh Street, where the shops and bistros wrap around westward and continue along for a ways, is A New Leaf Tea Emporium. I have to admit, when I entered the shop, I wondered about the looks of the place, which center around “warm, rich colors, wood décor, and ample light,” as their website accurately describes it. I thought that it was a bit much, a little too self-conscious; that the decor, by insisting upon itself, was too distracting from what is important in the shop. It seemed like their angle was to go for the look and feel of a fancy Victorian tea shop and stand out that way.
I also have to admit that my concerns were wholly unfounded. If the look is overdone, the tea itself is covered even more thoroughly. New Leaf’s selection is very nice, both diversified and ample. More than that, the young lady behind the counter knows her stuff wonderfully. The staff may look young, but do not let that fool you; they are very clever, very bright, and all about the tea. After she aced the softballs I threw her to test the waters, my server nailed the hard questions as well. Their website actually decries other companies that rely on superficial visuals to replace quality tea expertise, and I am pleased to report that they are willing and able to back up their words.
I was in the mood that day for a simple Japanese green, and was glad to see that their Sencha is organic, so I picked up a small package of that. The leaves are not rolled up at all; they are flaked and shredded, brittle looking although not to the touch. They are deep in color – remembering my Crayola crayons, I am thinking “forest green”. The dry leaves are very pungent, tannic almost. They are so malty that the texture of the aroma is analogous to the texture of Play-Doh in the hands. They are also sweet, but like luscious, verdant greenery, not like fruit or pastry.
Brewed, the Sencha appears to be on the yellow side of lemongrass. It looks mellow, smooth, not quite limpid, and subtly delicate – the word “timid” comes to mind, although on second thought that is not quite fair. It has a malty nose with a modicum of sweetness, but structurally the aroma is the opposite from that of the dry leaves: mild, gentle, smooth. Upon sipping the tea I must confess that the first impression I had was, simply, “pleasant.” It is verdant and brisk on the palate, without too much malt. The liquid is a tad light, but then again, it is not packed with a ton of flavors to carry; this is a simple and straightforward tea, smooth and easygoing. Soon one begins to notice a tannic sweetness in the back of the mouth that rounds things out quite nicely. Malty and brisk notes from the palate linger in the throat for a long couple of seconds to perform the finish.
This Sencha admittedly tends towards the nondescript, but frankly I enjoy the tea very much, for a couple of reasons. One is that often I am in the middle of a million things and seek to sip tea without putting much mind to it, for which situation this is ideal. But even more than that, the other reason is that just as often, I seek to sip tea and think about it, and let my mind settle happily upon the tea and its qualities, and from there drift slowly, almost stealthily onto something else, and again onto another thing, digging deep and playing the whole thought out until it connects to a new series of thoughts, and continue this quiet rambling, until the next thing I know forty minutes have passed, I have spent them staring at the wall and holding the half-full mug of tea without actually drinking it, and a dozen loose ends in my life are suddenly tied up nicely in a bow. This tea is ideal for that, too. Head on over to Garden City to pick some up today, and enjoy.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2013/05/organic-bai-mu-dan.html
Name: Organic Bai Mu Dan
Type: White Tea
Purveyor: You, Me and Tea
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of 180-degree water for 4:30, sipped plain
Bai mudan means “white peony” in Chinese. The Chinese have other words for “peony” in addition to mudan, among them fuguihua (“flower of riches and honor”) and huawang (“king of the flowers”). We might reasonably expect, upon learning this, that if they were to name a tea after this important symbol, they would reserve it for a premium variety. And indeed they have: whereas the other main grade of Chinese white tea, bai hao yinzhen (“white hair silver needle”), is made just from leaf shoots, bai mudan is prepared from shoots with young leaves on them. Bai hao yinzhen is very popular for its lighter, gentler flavors, but bai mudan takes no back seat with its more robust flavor profile, which, because it is robust only relative to white teas, results in a delightful beverage that offers nice, light tasting notes without devolving altogether into a glorified cup of barely flavored water.
The dry leaves of this organic Bai Mu Dan from You, Me and Tea are hazel colored. They are sizeable, and really do not appear terribly withered or curled up. The leaves smell very much of citrus – sweet citrus – maybe with the slightest wisp of white table grapes. They brew into a light, gentle, sprightly beverage that shakes about playfully as the vessel gets moved around. It is not at all unlike the color of a white peach.
The aroma is sweet and malty, smooth, with clear notes of citrus and melon, along with a side of very mild tannins. The first thing noticed upon sipping it is the light body, followed immediately by the delightful citrus and the practical absence of tannins. The beverage is not brisk, but one can discern that if there were a few more tannins about, then it would indeed be brisk, and that would not be such a bad thing. After a few sips, one notices a maltiness beginning to poke its way about, sneaking up from the back of the palate. It never overpowers, but with each sip it becomes felt further and further up the mouth, until soon malt is forming an underlying context in which all of the other tasting notes, heretofore independently frolicking about, are now playing together.
Thinking about it for far longer than anyone with something useful to do ought to spend thinking about it, I have found that this organic Bai Mu Dan bears a vague resemblance to a first flush Darjeeling tea.
In fidelity to the traditions of elegance and beauty that brought this tea about and have tended to its continuing prosperity, the tea has a lovely finish that rewards those who explore it most thoroughly: florals emerge for the first time, and form a lovely scene on the palate in which, if one waits just a moment or two extra, light notes of citrus and melon pass through with a breezy flourish.
Despite being lighter and more energetic than traditional tea-time teas, which tend to be deeper, smoother, calmer, and more thoughtful, thusly lending themselves to relaxation and quiet contemplation, this Bai Mu Dan is recommended more for the afternoon than for the morning. It is caffeinated and will work just fine for a chemical wakening agent, yes. However, its personality is much better suited for someone who is already about the day. The Bai Mu Dan is playful, energetic, almost cute in its childlike get-up-and-go. To get the most out of it, one should approach it already awake, in good humor, excited at the very thought of unshouldering the burdens of the day and expending the rest of one’s energy in sweet recreation. Have an extra few minutes on the way to your kid’s baseball game after work? The Bai Mu Dan is eagerly waiting to accompany you along the way. Done with your chores and errands for the weekend and looking forward to yoga class? This BMD just wrote your name on itself, and in your favorite font at that. Come to think of it, morning sipping may work after all: if you are one of those lucky devils who continues to spring out of bed with bountiful verve every single morning, and find yourself having just finished your jog at sunrise and now preparing to tackle the preposterous challenges with which a phalanx of bosses and coworkers has schemed to bombard you before you have even traversed the office parking lot – then a little Bai Mu Dan on the way there is just what the doctor ordered.
Pick some up today, and enjoy.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2013/03/jasmine-petal-tea.html
Name: Jasmine Petal Tea
Type: Green Tea
Purveyor: Two Leaves Tea Co.
Preparation: One tea bag steeped in about eight ounces of 180-degree water for 3:00 (as recommended), sipped plain
It is hardly a secret that tea is an absorbent product. It absorbs moisture, of course, but more perniciously, it absorbs scents, aromas, flavors, and just about any other such compound, making careful storage of dry leaves an indispensable task for tea drinkers. Anyone who has ever, from a cavalier attitude or simple laziness, just tossed an unsecured bag of tea into the cabinet or (even worse) the ’fridge, knows precisely of what I speak.
Of course, it is not all a bad thing. The good Mr. Richard Rosenfeld, founder and CEO of Two Leaves Tea Co. (formerly Two Leaves and a Bud), is said to take tea that he finds sub-par for drinking, and use it in place of baking soda as an odor absorber in his refrigerator. It works quite the same.
Another, perhaps more appreciable way to put tea’s absorbent qualities to good use is to produce scented tea. This nifty category of flavored teas is produced by drying tea leaves among whatever is is that we want the tea to taste like, and letting the scents and flavors get absorbed. Then the tea leaves – and only the tea leaves, not the scent-producers – are gathered and sold.
Scented teas are hardly rare, and comprise a tradition many centuries old going back to China, but all too often these days tea is flavored by throwing it together with other objects and packaging them all together. The flavors become overpowering, the tasting notes and health benefits of the tea become diluted, and even calling the product “tea” becomes rather more a convention of convenience than one of precision, as actual tea may comprise a rather small percentage of what gets brewed.
With scented tea, on the other hand, the flavors are discrete, balanced, in harmony with the tea instead of clashing against it. Two Leaves Tea has done a keen job with Jasmine Petal of scenting green tea with jasmine. By no means should my kind readership just take my word for it: trust some experts. This tea has brought to Two Leaves Tea first place prize at the 2012 North American Tea Championship in the Jasmine Scented Green Tea category of the Packaged Single-Service class (a new class in the competition). Very nice!
The tea brews into a strong, yellow beverage – not fluorescent, but not pale or translucent, either; just a deep, rich hue of yellow. In the aroma, jasmine opens like a lotus as it ascends into the nose. There are slight – very slight – fruity notes as well. The aroma is rich, but discreet. Also, smooth.
Most people who have tasted jasmine are familiar with its occasional tendency towards astringency, but this jasmine here, on the contrary, is quite sweet. Some malt underlies the flavor, but comes off more as a textural note than as a tasting note. As the sips go on, the green tea’s own notes come out from the woodwork: leafy, sweet, slightly tannic. But the jasmine maintains the spotlight, right through to the finish. Conveniently for this flavor combination, the tea is medium-bodied and very smooth, even silky.
The flavors really do blend well together. The green tea notes make for an excellent platform on which the jasmine sits high – elegant; solid yet supple; strong yet gentle.
The Jasmine Petal tea works for breakfast inasmuch as it is caffeinated, but it would be most ideally suited for the afternoon. The rich flavors and easy smoothness make for an excellent vessel by which to return oneself to a state of calm, focus, and clarity after one of those busy days in which, between the mind and the body, each seems to be more wound up than the other.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2013/02/scottish-breakfast-tea.html
Name: Scottish Breakfast Tea
Type: Black Tea
Ingredients: Assam; Ceylon; Kenya
Purveyor: Clipper Ship Tea Company
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 3:00 (as recommended), sipped plain
Those who have never visited the village of Northport, NY, really ought to go explore there. The quaint diversions, placid atmosphere, and coastal scenery are just what the doctor ordered on those weekends when a getaway is vital to one’s mental health. And, for those who live on Long Island or in the boroughs, traveling there and back is quick and easy – Long Islanders should have no trouble making a fulfilling one-day sojourn.
While browsing the shops and boutiques around Main Street, be sure to stop by the Clipper Ship Tea Co. It boasts both an extensive selection and a friendly staff that likes nothing better than to talk tea and educate its customers.
Clipper Ship’s black tea blends include, generally, some combination of Darjeeling, Keemun, Kenya, Ceylon, and Assam teas. In the case of the Scottish Breakfast blend the latter three are used, all with similar-looking leaves, like little twigs, or tightly wrung bits of cloth. Most are dark brown, like dark chocolate, but there are some tan ones here and there. The dry leaves have a strong nose of vanilla – very strong, almost astringent even. There are also notes of toffee and a vague hint of citrus.
When the tea brews, it looks like someone took toffee and caramel and mixed them together into a rich, textured liquid. The aroma is of sweet tannins, with a little briskness and a modicum of citrus. It is a rich aroma, but not overwhelming, or even pungent – just a different kind of rich. Maybe “solid” is a good word. The flavor is a perky kind of brisk, and lush with a lemon zest, inhabiting a medium-full body. The tea is not acidic, but the tannins are quite present, and make it taste like tea really ought to taste – the same notes that, in coffee, wine, and other beverages make us think of tea, are front and center here. Meanwhile, the citrus tones keep it light and spright, and the sweetness pulls it all together.
The Scottish Breakfast tea is excellent as a morning pick-me-up, quite as the name implies. Also though, for those who do not mind caffeine in the late afternoon, this would work great as a tea-time tea. The notes are ideal as a carry-over between lunch and dinner, just what the palate requires.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2013/01/organic-tamayokucha.html
Purveyor: Two Leaves and a Bud
Preparation: One bag steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 3:00 (as recommended), sipped plain
Here is an interesting specimen: Chinese-grown leaves prepared in a traditional Japanese style. Tamayokucha (also known as tamaryokucha, which altered syllable one would think would alter the entire word) can be processed either via pan-firing or via steaming, and Two Leaves and a Bud made a good choice in the latter. Pan-firing brings out a more vegetal essence in the tea, and while this example certainly has some of those characteristics, it also, because of the steaming, was able to keep plenty of space for sweetness, tannins, and just plain roominess.
The color of the brewed tea is light yellow, rich, translucent, and full of character, not unlike a pigment that might be used in a stained glass window. The aroma is sweet – not honey-like, nor sugary, nor fruity, but sweet. There is also an undertone to the aroma, more of a texture than a scent, really, which gives it a sort of earthy feel, in the same way that one can feel the air in a woodland before and after a rain differently than one can feel it in other settings. (This is surely magnified many times over in pan-fired varieties.) Perhaps the best approximation – and it is only that – of this unique combination of sweetness and texture in the aroma is a steaming-hot mug of green tea ice cream.
This tamayokucha tastes delicate, light, flavorful, pure, with a touch of briskness (surprisingly), and nice tannins (which are at optimal levels). Sweetness is there but not overpowering. The fine-tuned combination of all of those factors yields a delicious brew that really tastes like green tea ought to taste; truly an excellent example of the category.
As per its dynamic character, this tea can serve equally well as a morning get-me-going potion, an object around which to unwind in the afternoon, or (for those unaffected by caffeine) something to make one cozy of an evening. Enjoy.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2012/12/bonita-peach-rooibos-tea.html
Name: Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea
Ingredients: Green Rooibos Plant, Sunflower Petals, Orange Peel, Natural Peach & Strawberry Flavoring
Purveyor: The Spice & Tea Exchange
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 5:00, sipped plain
Tea is what brews from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves can be treated in a way that includes oxidation, creating black tea, or else in a different way that does not, creating green tea (or, of course, in any of a few other ways as well).
Any time that one steeps something not from the Camellia sinensis plant one gets a tisane, more commonly known as herbal tea. Some herbal teas are comprised of cheap plant parts whose only purpose is to hold the myriad artificial flavorings that make them taste so yummy. However, there are also very many species of flora that, though not related to Camellia sinensis, create legitimate brewed beverages in their own rights. Principle among these are hibiscus, chamomile, rooibos, and yerba mate. (The latter, in fact, is even naturally caffeinated, an extremely rare distinction among tisanes.)
Rooibos, naturally non-caffeinated, comes from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant, a legume native to South Africa. The word “rooibos” comes from the Afrikaans for “red bush”, and its beverage is also known as “red tea” for, of course, its red color. So imagine my surprise to read that I was drinking a “green rooibos”. Surely, unless we are describing Christmas decor, this must be a contradiction, either a silly error or a cheap marketing ploy.
No, not at all, in fact. It turns out that what gives standard rooibos its red color is the oxidation that it undergoes during treatment – the same thing that gives black tea its black color. Green rooibos leaves are not oxidized. Avoiding oxidation “results in a grassy, naturally sweet flavor and a lower tannin content,” as The Spice & Tea Exchange tells me, and boy is that ever so.
The Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea has the dual benefits of being an authentic green rooibos tea and chock full of some excellent natural flavoring, both at the same time. Observing the dry leaves, one enjoys a complete medley of colors with delightful, almost wood-like tones. The ingredients present as straight little sticks of light green, brown, yellow, orange, tan, and maroon. They fall together in patterns of little square clusters such that, while still packed tight in the bag, they look like the floor of the the Boston Celtics’s home court before (or after?) a paint job. Taking in the leaves’ aroma, one can smell the peach right away, with a mere wisp of spices and herbs. It is rich, sensual, sweet. If the leaves’ colors belong to autumn, then the scent belong right in the heat of August on a hot, lazy day, the kind of day on which one can expect to find oneself biting into a ripe peach and chewing on the soft flesh as the strong, sugary juice allocates itself between one’s throat and one’s chin.
The tisane brews into a light, golden orange liquid, rich and suave. The aroma is also rich, smooth, a succinct combination of sweetness and spice. Or perhaps more herbs than spice in this case; the orange peel and the floral hints are unmistakeable, and of course the peach is hardly away in hiding. Sipping it brings back a wonderful memory. In many sushi houses – including, at least, the one where I grew up – along with the check come sucking candies, and not just any ol’ sucking candies but ones absolutely packed full of the most perfumey peach syrup on earth. Well, take the intensity level down to normal, and there you have the initial layer of flavor of this herbal tea. As it hits the back of the tongue one gets a complex floral note balanced by both the sweetness and the rooibos itself, which is finally emerging from obscurity into a more visible role.
Those who require caffeine in the morning will probably want to stick with Camellia sinensis or yerba mate (or coffee). But otherwise, the Bonita Peach Rooibos Tea fits in nicely at any time of the day. The flavors are lively, the body is smooth, and the sweetness is a real peach. Enjoy.
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2012/08/first-harvest-darjeeling-tea.html
Origin: Darjeeling, India
Type: Black Tea
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for three minutes, sipped plain
Darjeeling tea is harvested a few times over the course of a season – first flush, second flush, autumnal flush – and each yield has its own characteristics, its own personality, its own charm and identity, making its own mark on the world of tea and on the palates of tea drinkers. (Che bella!) I have heard that the tea made from the first flush is the lightest, as the leaves are plucked before the full length of the season has given the plant day after day of bountiful nutrients and minerals and other goodies to be imbibed from the soil, eventually yielding an autumnal leaf that makes a richer and stronger (and more bitter) cup of tea. That all makes sense on paper, I suppose, and yet I must say that if the tea that I sipped is the lightest crop of the season, then by the autumnal flush the tea must brew like crude oil.
The dry leaves of this First Harvest Darjeeling (as McNulty’s calls it) are medium sized, and all shades of brown. They are rolled, and not quite crumpled so much as gnarled. The bag of tea leaves could easily pass for a bag of tiny twigs. These leaves offer a thick, winy nose, not unlike a tawny port, with fruity undertones, perhaps peach-like.
When brewed, the tea is the color of tawny port, with a rich visual texture like honey. That is appropriate, because the aroma is of honey as well, and somewhat floral – honeysuckle, let’s say. When sipped, the tea has a smooth texture, soothing to drink, almost like a tisane. Is it hearty, per se? No, although the question does arise. It is rich yet semi-delicate. Maybe that is what people mean in describing the first flush as “light”: delicate to the touch. The flavor is certainly no kind of weak. There are plenty of tannins around the edges, while a vanilla-honey flavor – soft but superabundant – takes center stage. There are hints of peaches and nectarines.
Overall, the cup of this First Harvest Darjeeling is mellow but deep. It seems more like an afternoon tea than a breakfast tea. Sipping it does more to provide a platform for the collected thoughts of a day to play themselves out than to provide a spark to generate the day’s events.
I brewed the same leaves a second time, in the same manner, and the result was what one might expect. The color of the tea does not diminish, and the nose, aside from exuding more tannins, is the same. But on the sip it offers a muted, slightly more bitter version of the first cup of tea, with a lighter texture. The finish is tannic.
By the way, half-way through the second cup, the caffeine starts to really hit in. Maybe it can work as a breakfast tea after all!
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2012/08/circa-1867-assam-black-tea.html
Origin: Assam, India
Type: Black Tea
Preparation: Steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for three minutes, sipped plain
The name of the place is Brownstones Coffee. And indeed, the coffee is phenomenal; the Rwanda prepared with a manual drip is to die for. But it is so much more than just a great cup of Joe: breakfast place, lunch place, time machine, and tea shop as well.
I do not know if its line of teas, branded “Circa 1867,” is a house brand or a separate gig, but it is very good. The menu features dozens of teas of all types, with much to recommend. One can get loose tea to go, or order a cup to sip. Having lunch there the other day, I tried the first item on the list: a simple black Assam.
Offering a honey, butterscotch nose, the tea also emits a hint of snapdragon, a scent that I have not experienced since visiting my grandparents’ garden as a youth. The hue of the tea is, interestingly, like coffee. Remarkably like coffee, actually, although not as deep or rich to the eye. Maybe there is a tinge of caramel color there, too. The taste is light; delicate but not fragile. It is savory, woodsy but not smoky, maybe almost nutty. There is also a handful of tannins to to go around. The texture is medium, edging towards the airier side of things. The finish is quite the same as the taste.
Brownstones describes the Assam as “robust, hearty, and malty.” I agree with that last adjective, if none other. But then again, how could I dispute anything that they say? The staff also claims that the No Guilt Breakfast Wrap is delicious, and heck if it is anything less! As for their claim that an unimposing, almost mild tea is “robust”, there is no denying that it stands up to the wrap (“healthy egg whites, baby spinach, tomatoes, cracked pepper mill turkey, melted alpine lace Swiss cheese, in a whole wheat wrap”) just fine. A friendly, quiet Assam with latent muscles to hold its own anywhere: what could be better than that?
Originally published at The Nice Drinks In Life: http://thenicedrinksinlife.blogspot.com/2012/08/guayaki-organic-traditional-yerba-mate.html
Origins: Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil
Type: Yerba Mate
Preparation: Two teaspoons put into an empty mug (about eight-ounce size), no bag or steeper, a little cold water added, stirred with a bombilla, rest of mug filled with approximately 150-degree water, sipped with bombilla
Yerba mate is really cool. It is a tisane in that it is not Camellia sinensis, but it is naturally caffeinated, and it certainly tastes more like a beverage that was meant to be brewed than like a dessert tray pureed with a little too much water and sugar, as many herbals are apt to taste. The traditional drink (or, at least, a traditional drink) of the Native Americans in sub-tropical South America, yerba mate remains a staple there, and has found its way to much of the rest of the world as well.
Yerba mate is traditionally drunk out of a hollowed out gourd. I have one, but it is a pain in the neck to clean, so I use a mug. I do, however, use the bombilla, also part of the tradition, which is a metal straw through which the liquid is drunk. (For those wondering, it is indeed possible to burn one’s lips on it, but that is unlikely to happen more than once.) Preparation should be as described above when using loose tea. The cold water helps manifest many elements of the tea, including not only compounds such as caffeine and anti-oxidants, but also those that give the tea is lovely flavor. After the hot water is poured in, there is no need to wait more than a few seconds for the tea to steep. It is ready to go.
Guayakí has done some remarkable stuff with yerba mate, but I generally prefer the simple and original things in life, and therefore keep the “traditional” version in my home. The leaves are chopped in all ways, with some fragments the size of a SIM card, and others practically powder. They are pale greenish tan, not at all unlike the color of American military uniforms between Desert Storm and the present day.
Yerba mate has an aroma and flavor all its own, and it is much more difficult to describe than the notes of coffee or black tea. The steam coming off of the tea smells very earthy, very malty, and very woodsy, with a tinge of smokiness. The color of the liquid, which is a little bit thinner and lighter in body than a brew made from Camellia sinensis, is the same as the color of the leaves. The flavor is bitter, but smooth, consistent, almost tannic even. It has plenty of malt, and a hint of the floral. Both the aroma and flavor, but especially the aroma, will make one reminisce about spending time outside in a wooded area after a rain, though one will not be able to put his finger on exactly what situation that was. (This has been confirmed by many.) The liquid has minimal structure, just enough so that the flavor can do all the heavy lifting; and indeed, while the body is light, the flavor is rich. It goes down easy, being so light in body, and leaves an aftertaste as smooth and consistent as the tea itself. The sipper will want more.
The good news about wanting more, by the way, is that yerba mate can be re-steeped much more often than Camellia sinensis. The mug or gourd can be refilled three times without too much effect on the flavor’s strength.
In the middle of making some notes on the flavor, I realized that I had forgotten to note the aroma of the dry leaves. Imagine my shock to discover strong fruity tones where the liquid offers only malt. The dry leaves are earthy, and even woodsy, but where with the brewed liquid there are flowers growing wild, here there is only fruit to decorate the flora.
Yerba mate is hardly unknown or unheard of in North America, but it still does not get the attention that it deserves. To tea lovers, people who like variety in what they consume, and anyone who would not mind an alternative pick-me-up for the morning or afternoon (its caffeine is quite effective), I definitely recommend getting some of this delicious beverage right away. Enjoy.