Thursday, August 10, 2017

Interview: Tyas Huybrechts of The Tea Crane

Photo courtesy of Tyas Huybrechts

Tyas Huybrechts is not just someone that sells tea. He is a Belgian ex-pat living in Japan, teaching Japanese tea culture, and living the beautiful tea life. He also sells tea at The Tea Crane but, as he says, "I don’t actually consider myself a tea vendor, but rather something closer to a missionary spreading the value that tea can bring to our lives." These are the wise words of Tyas.

I'm excited to bring you our interview below. He explains the beauty of Japanese tea culture quite poetically. Find out what teas he recommends for Japanese tea newbies, the challenges of teaching the Japanese tea ceremony, and many more beautiful facts about his tea adventure.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tasting a CTC Malaysian Tea from BOH

BOH Cameronian Gold Blend 

Chances are you've had a CTC tea at some point. CTC stands for crush, tear, curl, which is the way the leaves are processed. This method was invented in the 1930s as a quick and consistent way to process lower grade leaves destined to become black tea. It's an easy way to get a product that creates a uniform brew, since consistency is key with large tea producers. You can't have your brand name tea change in flavor from batch to batch. The leaves are cut, crushed, bruised, and rolled to speed up oxidation process. Because of the processing and size, this tea steeps up quickly and quite strong. CTC teas are usually consumed with the addition of milk, which tames the astringency. You'll most often find CTC teas in tea bags from Sri Lanka, Kenya, and parts of India.

CTC can often be found in tea bags and breakfast blends. The small surface area allows the brew to infuse quickly and with a strong flavor. It infuses quickly, and is often used in blends where milk is added (to tame the bitterness and strength). Many tea aficionados turn their noses up at CTC tea. The quality is usually lower than orthodox teas (whole leaf teas), and the flavor is usually fairly flat. As with any teas, if you start with higher quality leaves, even the CTC leaves will have a better flavor, although they still do not have the depth of a whole leaf brew. I've actually had a few CTC teas that were quite enjoyable as a morning blend, and I keep one in particular around for the mornings when I really need a wake-up punch.

The tea I'm reviewing today comes from the Cameron highlands of Malaysia, which is a fertile area perfect for growing tea. The BOH plantation was the first in Malaysia, and remains the largest tea producer in the country. To be honest, I didn't know anything at all about Malaysian grown teas before I was contacted by BOH to review some samples. Doing a bit of research I found an interesting 2013 article from World Tea News, which mentions the BOH plantation:
Over the years, BOH Plantations grew to become the largest highland tea producer in Malaysia. BOH remains the largest tea producer in Malaysia, with nearly 47 percent of the landmass in the country dedicated to tea production. This translates to approximately 1,200 hectares out of a total 2,533 hectares of land.
Today's tea is the Cameronian Gold Blend. A look at the leaves shows the CTC production. The dry leaves smell like dry fall leaves- slightly earthy. There is also a hint of sweetness and a bit of something floral. The aroma is stronger than I would have expected.

The brew smells slightly sweet. The flavor is subtle, without much depth. It has that sweetness and earthiness with a whisper of tobacco. It is reminiscent of a fairly strong tea bag. It's quite smooth which is surprising, since CTC tea infuses super quickly and usually gets astringent. This has no astringency whatsoever. It's not flavorful enough for me, but it would be fine as a breakfast tea, especially if you are partial to adding milk and sugar. I think it would be a suitable iced tea as well, made super strong and perhaps adding in some simple syrup and mint.

Thank you to BOH for the sample. I have a few flavored blends to also try. To learn more about this tea, you can visit the company's website here. Or check out their offerings on Amazon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tasting: Organic Roasted Bancha by The Tea Crane

Last week's weather of 'sweltering hot and humid' seems to be hanging around. That's summer in NYC. I've been trying to catch up on tea reviews lately, which hasn't been easy since I have such an imposing pile to get through. But drinking hot tea actually cools the body, so I've been drinking hot tea just as much as the iced brews. Today's tasting is a roasted bancha tea from The Tea Crane. A mountain grown organic roasted bancha called 'The Mountains At Rest', to be exact. I love this name! It's poetic and quite visual. I can imagine a happily relaxed mountain, carefully tending to her tea trees surrounded by gently rolling mist.

The Tea Crane's owner Tyas Huybrechts has a wonderful blog that you should follow if you don't already know about it. He's a Belgian ex-pat living in Japan, and has become a certified Japanese tea instructor. His blog is extremely interesting and informative.

The Tea Crane's website describes the tea as:
Bancha employs that more fully-grown tea-leaf which is too mature, and has therefore become too bitter, for use in producing high-quality sencha, and is harvested later; such leaf is first processed just as for sencha – by means of a combination of steaming, rolling and drying – but is then stored until it is required, whereupon it is roasted immediately before packaging and shipping.  

The dry leaves are shades of dark army green and browns. There are some twigs, full, and broken leaves in the mix, which makes sense for a tea of this style. The leaves are quite large, and have an aroma similar to hojicha, but something slightly more vegetal and woody, not just earthy and toasty. I'm thinking of dried beans and old tree branches.

The brew gives off an amazingly strong roasty aroma, it reminds me of coffee. It's earthy but there is a hint of something vegetal. Maybe like those beans I mentioned?

The tea holds on to that roast, and coffee-inspired flavor. It is woodsy, earthy, roasted, with a toasted bread flavor. There is also a slight vegetal something, again I think of beans. I want to just put my feet up and sip it for hours. There is a lingering smoky flavor on my palate. It stuck around for a very long time. Quite impressive! This tea has a nice body and mouthfeel. It's comforting yet complex.

I can't wait to try and cold-brew this tea. I think it'll be incredibly refreshing, similar to the tea I reviewed last week. I would like to pair this tea with something smokey and savory, I'm thinking of a flavorful Chinese BBQ pork bun. Ok, now my tummy is rumbling...

Thank you Tias for the amazing sample! I have a few more to try, so stay tuned. I hope everyone is having a great week.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tasting: Kumagawa from Mellow Monk

In NYC the season changes from spring, to sweltering hot and humid. There isn't much of a ramp up to summer; damp and unbearably hot seems to happen overnight. I like to drink hot tea year round, even on the hottest days but when that humidity gets unbearable, only a cold tea will do. I like to cold brew most of my teas. It's super easy to do and imparts a very smooth flavor. Jee of Oh How Civilized recently published a great how-to on cold brew, check it out here if you need a tutorial.

When I was recently given the choice of samples to review from Mellow Monk tea, Kumagawa caught my eye. This lightly roasted green tea comes in cold-brewable sachets, made for the fridge. I don't normally go for bagged teas but I love cold-brewed hojicha and Paul from Mellow Monk said it was a bit lighter than hojicha, but very refreshing. How could I say no to that? 

This green tea comes from tea maker Kazuo Watanabe, a grower and artisan in Kumamoto. The dry leaf is nutty and roasty, very similar to hojicha. It has a slight something different, something a bit more pungent, but it's difficult to describe. The Mellow Monk site describes a 'hickory' note, so that's what I'll say it is. It's a bit woody but something more savory. Actually the aroma is a bit smoky too, which leads me to think this tea would be good in a barbecue sauce. I'll have to think about that a bit...

I added 3 sachets for a 2 quart pitcher. This is a little more than suggested but I like my iced tea super strong. I popped it in the fridge for about 5-6 hours, and ended up with an extremely refreshing tea. I accidentally left the bags in the pitcher overnight and it was just as good after about 9 more hours of steeping. The brew never got bitter or overpowering. It's nutty, slightly grassy, has a little hint of what I imagine is 'hickory' and smoke, and is extremely refreshing. My family and I have been drinking this tea all week, and I took it on a walk through the park on a typical disgustingly hot, soupy day. It takes a powerful tea to cut through the NYC haze, and this one did the trick. 

This tea is light enough to reach for throughout the day. I don't think I'd start my day with it as I like something with a bit more body and heft, but this is a great choice for mid-morning, through to the evening. It can also be brewed hot, which I haven't tried yet since I love it so much out of the fridge.

To learn more about this tea you can visit the Mellow Monk website here. Thank you to Paul for the sample! I have a few more to review, can't wait to try them.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Steep Thoughts: Ravi Kroesen

I'm so pleased to present my interview with Ravi Kroesen of Royal Tea New York. Ravi has worked at quite a few great tea companies including The Tao of Tea and Bellocq, and is now the Director of Tea Operations for Royal Tea New York.  I recently met Ravi at an evening of tea and cheese pairings, and knew I had to learn more about his tea journey. He has had quite a few fascinating adventures. Read on to learn more about his experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: White Tea And Cheese

When tea friends get together, ideas start flowing. We sip and talk about anything and everything, and of course conversation always comes back to tea. After one of our tea meet-ups, GeorgiaJee, and I decided to work on a special collaboration together. We wanted to combine our passion for tea and our love of food.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tasting: Korean Mt. Jiri Joongjak Hwang Cha by Teas Unique

Tea culture is quite vibrant in Korea, and is heavily influenced by nature and poetry. I just love this idea, and it reminds me of sipping tea in a serene garden, surrounded by poets and artists. Perhaps an outdoor version of the French bohemian lifestyle around the turn of the 20th century. I can feel the grass tickle my feet and hear the scratch of paint brushes on canvas...Ok, pulling my head out of these daydreams, let's focus on Korean tea! I learned a little bit about Korean tea culture and the elegant Darye tea ceremony last year at a presentation at the Hagajae museum, which you can read about here.

Korean teas can be difficult to find. The teas aren't exported as much as they are from other countries, and I don't blame them for keeping all of the beautiful tea for themselves. Most teas from South Korea are grown in the south, as is the case for the tea I'm tasting today. In fact, the first tea seeds brought to Korea from China were planted on Mount Jiri, which is where my sample was grown. You can check out a map on the Teas Unique website for more information on the South Korean tea growing areas.

I randomly chose the Mt. Jiri Joongjak (third pluck) hwang cha for today's tasting. All of the samples were interesting and I couldn't prioritize. This tea is considered a 'lightly oxidized' red tea (black tea), and I was curious to see what it was all about. This tea is a third plucking, and the package says it was plucked 'around April 28 2016' but I imagine it could actually have been a few weeks later since this seems early for a third pluck.

The dry leaves are dark and wiry, averaging about an inch in length. The leaves are quite sweet and a bit fruity. I'm also getting a bit of something reminiscent of forest rocks, which is interesting. Maybe it's minerality? When I added hot water to the tea, the story unfolded a little bit more...

The brewed tea smells quite sweet and tastes super smooth. I served this for the Office Tea Club a few weeks ago and the feedback was 'ooh this is like chocolate, but also grassy!'. There was definitely a chocolatey richness but it's not super strong. Dried grass is the dominant note, with a sweet caramel finish. In the background I definitely detected some 'wet rock' flavor, forest stones after a soaking spring rain. There is a slight astringency to the brew, not really present but it's just enough to keep things interesting.

The second time I enjoyed this tea I over-brewed it a little bit, but it was still very smooth. I decided to pair it with a few French macarons I was gifted (which you can see in the first picture above), and that was actually a mistake. This tea is too delicate to have overpowering sweet flavors accompany it. For a sweet, I'd pick something with milk chocolate (or white chocolate, but I hate white chocolate!). For savory, I'm thinking avocado toast. A nod to the toasty notes, and the creamy avocado would work nicely with the chocolate and slight astringency in this tea. I still have so much to learn about pairing teas with food, but it's such a fun journey!

I think this may be the first Korean tea I've reviewed with the exception of a few sips of the gorgeous Jukro I had at a tasting a few years ago. I still dream about that tea. Thank you to Teas Unique for the sample! I look forward to trying the others that were sent to expand my Korean tea experience.