Monday, August 29, 2016

Interview: Learn More About Bitaco, unique Colombian Tea

All photos courtesy of Bitaco
Have you ever tried Colombian tea? I've mentioned Bitaco before, and I thought they'd be the perfect company to feature so everyone could learn more about them. I'm very excited to present this interview. You'll learn everything from their unique soil and climate conditions, to how they are helping local communities through tea. My questions have been thoughtfully answered by Juan Guillermo González, their International Sales Director.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tasting: Emerald Spring Green Tea from Nepali Tea Traders

I had the opportunity to taste a few unique teas from Nepali Tea Traders at the World Tea Expo this past June. The green pearls of Agni were quite memorable, and unlike anything I'd tasted before. I had a nice chat with the founder Maggie, and she generously sent a few samples shortly upon returning from the Expo. The company works with tea farmers in Nepal to improve the economic situation for the farmers and their families.

As much as I wanted to just drink more of the green pearls, I decided to sample a different tea first. The day was bright and sunny with a gentle breeze stirring through the leaves so I decided on the Emerald Spring green tea. It felt like the right thing to try on such a vivid day.

Here is what Nepali Tea Traders has to say about this tea:
After hand-plucking, the leaves are quickly de-enzymed and conditioned. The result is a cup with a lovely green liquor and aroma of wildflowers. The tea is sweet and vegetal, reflecting all the freshness and beauty of spring in Nepal.

When I opened the package I noticed a familiar aroma. I stuck my nose right in and inhaled deeply. It smelled like something I knew, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. A steamed vegetable? Maybe. After a few more vigorous sniffs (good thing I was alone), an image popped into my head. It’s seaweed. More specifically, the seaweed you spoon out of miso soup and happily slurp up. It has that cooked vegetal seaweed flavor, but also sweetness and a bit of something savory that brings miso soup to mind. I was instantly craving a sushi dinner.

The tea steeped up to a different flavor profile- the aroma of the liquor is much sweeter, and an interesting floral note emerged. I closed my eyes and imagined fresh cut spring grass and steamed asparagus (those two things together create a strange image but hey, that's what I saw. Maybe it was a picnic of steamed asparagus under an old oak tree). The brew tastes sweet and slightly floral but I can’t put my finger on what type of flower it would be. It's a lush springtime flavor. I really enjoyed this tea.

I could see drinking this tea all throughout the warmer months, and possibly in the darkness of winter to bring back images of vibrant green fields and blooming flowers. Thank you to Nepali Tea Traders for this sample!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Yin and Yang of Tea?

My terrible attempt at making a yin yang symbol out of tea

A tea lover's confession: so, I love green tea but it's not often something I 'crave'. I often find myself happily daydreaming about most other types thought the day (you all do this too, right?), but rarely green or white. I never thought much about this until tea class this week. We talked a little about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and yin/yang before diving deeper into the history of Chinese tea. The instructor said tea (particularly green and white tea) is generally yin, which means it it has 'cold' properties. This stuck with me after the lesson, and I wanted to learn a little more about what it could mean.

TCM is about balance. If your body isn't in harmony it can lead to sickness. This balance is a play between yin and yang. As I mentioned, yin is comprised of cold, but also darkness, and things related with the moon and the feminine. It seems a little odd to me to group these things together, but there you have it. I'm not going to argue with ancient wisdom. Yang is associated with heat, fire, and masculinity. 

I thought this passage from good ol' wikipedia illustrates the relationship, but I'm not sure how I feel about the characteristics associated with feminine and masculine...
The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.
Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and nighttime.
Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime

Here is a better image of a yin yang symbol, also called a taijitu

As I mentioned, tea is considered yin in general, but puerh, roasted oolong, and black teas are more yang. The greener/less processed a tea, the more yin it's supposed to be. I started thinking about this and how I could use it on a practical level. I'm always the person that's freezing. In my office I've always been the one to complain about the air conditining being too strong. In fact I gave up the fight and keep a little heater under my desk to fight the sub-zero temperatures. Since green teas are 'cooling' I wonder if that's why my body doesn't often crave them. I'm often chilly enough as it is.  But generally it seems that green teas are recommended for warmer months and black/roasted/puerh is for winter temperatures for their cooling/warming properties.

Matcha has been trendy for ages now,  and everyone from supermodels to hipsters drink it. In tea class we learned that matcha has a very strong yin, because you are drinking the entire leaf. I love a good bowl of matcha to get me through a long day but again it's not a tea that lurks in the recesses of my brain, always whispering to be steeped. Since tea is so yin, my instructor wasn't sure how she felt about cold-brewing. Tea is already cooling, so is it necessary to ice it? I say, if you like it and it refreshes you, why not? Perhaps Chinese medicine practitioners wouldn't recommend it, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

TCM has many things to say about tea, even regarding tea drinking based on age. Younger people can drink lots of green tea to cool their 'boundless energy' (although I don't think I've ever had boundless energy) but as you get older, you should switch to teas that lean towards yang. I guess to fire you up? This makes me wonder, should you serve yang teas on a date? This actually reminds me of a tea blend I once saw in a shop called 'sexy tea'. But that should probably be left for another post...

So after learning a few rudimentary facts about TCM and tea, my motto is still drink the tea you want to drink. Enjoy the tea you like, any way you like it. But I do find the yin and yang of tea interesting and would love to study it further if the opportunity ever came up. It would also be interesting to build a food and tea pairing menu based on traditional Chinese medicine principles instead of just flavors to see if there is an effect.  I'll have to keep that idea in mind. If anyone has read any interesting books or articles on TCM and how it relates to tea, please let me know. I'd love to check them out.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tasting: Spring 2016 Sheng by Misty Peak Tea

If I could associate an image for my tea journey, I would choose a rhizome.  It's a living, growing, breathing thing that is ever expanding under the surface. Sending out shoots to climb to the air and share with the world. Knowledge and experience feeds it, and it occasionally develops a blog post that makes it to the surface. I use my tasting posts as experience for my palate, to further feed the tea journey. Today's tea is a sheng puerh. I am still very much a newbie when it comes to puerh, and I'm always happy to get the opportunity to try it and continue to grow under the surface.

The tea is a 2016 spring sheng puerh from Misty Peak Tea. The company only sells puerh, and only from one family farm. To learn more about found Nicholas and the company you can check out the interview we did in 2015 right here.

The dry leaves are quite long and twisty. The leaves span a spectrum of dark green shades. A few sniffs bring a strong apricot aroma-very sweet, as if it were cooked into a jam. There is also a slight bit of smoke.

After a quick rinse, the wet leaves smell smoky, still apricot-y, with a touch of leathery peat and forest floor. Things are starting to feel very organic and earthy.

After the first infusion, the tea is dry on the palate with hints of smoke and peat. It has nice body and coats my throat. The fruitiness is still there, but more in the background. There is a fresher, green loamy thing going on too. A gentle floral sweetness lingers, and that subtle apricot sticks around for quite awhile. Almost like an apricot compote. The peat and loam bring me to the Scottish highlands, inhaling the fresh dewy green essence while watching sheep slowly graze. There may be a bit of a light spring rain in there too.

I had quite a few steeps of this tea and although the earthy dryness still dominated, it became sweeter as I steeped. It had me craving a nice dry white wine. Before I started my session with this tea, I had an annoying headache. I was surprised to see that after a few gaiwan pours of this tea, my headache was completely gone. Could it be the caffeine? Or the peaceful images of rolling Scottish hills? Or just coincidence? I choose to believe in the magic of the sheng, while the rhizome expands just a little bit.

Thank you to Misty Peak for the sample.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tasting: La Belle Epoque by Lupicia

This week's tasting brings us back to La Belle Epoque, the golden age of French fashion, culture, and art. Since I don't have a tea Tardis to transport us to late 19th century France, I'm relying on a blend of tea by Lupicia to take us there in spirit. The company recently sent me an attractive tin of black tea called, of course, La Belle Epoque. Since I could use a bit of positive imagery during this crazy time in our history I decided to try it out. Perhaps drinking this tea will conjure up feelings of optimism and peace, a departure from the world we live in these days.

Lupicia's site says this is a blend of 'full-bodied black tea' and Darjeeling (probably a 2nd or autumnal flush). I'm guessing there is Assam and possibly Kenyan tea in the blend. It also says 'It has a trace of nostalgic aroma', which makes sense given the blend name, but I'm not sure what a nostalgic aroma smells like. Nostalgia is personal and unique. I admit this blend does have a bit of nostalgia for me, since 2nd flush Darjeeling teas are the first teas I discovered when I finally ventured past the yellow label teabags.

The dry leaves smelled earthy and also had that Darjeeling sweet muscatel aroma. Looking at the dry leaves there are small bits of dark leaves and larger greener leaves, which I'm guessing is the Darjeeling. I also noticed quite a few twigs and stems, which hints at a lower quality tea. The instructions call for boiling water, but I'm wondering if making it a touch lower would help. The tea steeped up super dark, and very strong. I probably added too much tea but even when I was more precise the second time, it was quite strong. This tea is definitely prone to being a bit astringent, so pay attention to your preparation.

The strength of the brew makes it a good morning tea. Robust yet smooth. Woodsy, with a tiny bit of spice. Perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec would have enjoyed a cup of this while painting his chic French posters. I can't say that one sip made me feel a sense of Joie de vivre, but it is lively and bold and gave me a few minutes of peace before stepping back into reality.

This tea is a good choice for strong breakfast blend drinkers, and those that enjoy 2nd flush Darjeelings. I wouldn't mind having it around to get me through the day after one of my frequent insomnia battles. Thank you to Lupicia for the tea!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tasting: Keemun Concerto from Adagio Teas

When folks at Adagio sent me a gift card to select samples for review, I tried to find a few teas from their 'Roots Campaign', because they give bit of information on the farmers providing the teas. I picked a few teas of interest, and decided to start in on the Keemun Concerto first. In the interview with the farmer for this tea, Wang Ai Guo mentions the difficult work schedule and her life in poverty as a tea picker. These are things a tea drinker doesn't usually think about while sipping, a reality that tea drinkers tend to ignore. When I drink tea, I try to take a few moments of gratitude for the many weathered hands that plucked and carried the leaves and for those that processed them. I'm glad to be reminded of these facts while selecting my tea.

Keemun is grown in the Qimen (both the tea and the place are pronounced Chee-Men) county of Anhui and my favorite versions are smooth, rich, and chocolatey. The best ones don't have much if any smoky flavor. The Keemun Concerto dry leaves are thin and twisty with some golden tips. They are very sweet and a bit malty. The infused leaves are smoky and chocolatey. The brew itself has slight tobacco and earthy notes, and strong malt and chocolate flavors with a lingering bit of spice. No real smoky flavor to the brew, it's just in the leaves. The brew is of medium body, and super smooth. It's a very comforting tea, and has helped me relax during a hectic work day. I find the chocolatey smooth characteristic of Keemun to be a great tea to unwind with.

This is a nice everyday drinking tea. Something I could go for in the morning, or to relax with during a stressful day. I had left some on my desk and after a long meeting the cold tea was quite refreshing, so I decided to cold brew some the next day. The flavor was more delicate, but still smooth and malty with a touch of sweet cocoa.

Thank you to Adagio for providing the sample, I have a few more left to review, so stay tuned.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

WTE: My Favorite Gadgets


I know it's been over a month since the World Tea Expo, but I do have a few more things I wanted to say about it. Today, I wanted to mention three noteworthy tea 'gadgets' that I came across...

Qi Aerista- I have to admit, I loved this little tea making machine and the friendly folks behind it. It's a simple machine, with 6 presets for green, oolong, black, floral, milk tea, and cold brewing. You can also customize the brewing parameters and track everything through their phone app. The device is simple, and not too large. Similar to other tea makers such as the Breville, but this one looks a bit smaller and is a little cheaper. I don't own a Breville myself, so I asked my Blogger Roundtable friends to compare the Qi and the Breville. They do seem comparable, but the Breville has a brewing basket that lowers into the water to brew, and the Qi holds the leaves in a compartment at the top of the machine while water circulates through it. Also, the Qi can be controlled through an app, and the Breville doesn't have this functionality. The Qi water temperature settings also appear to be a bit more customizable. The price for the Qi Aerista will be about $200 (the price isn't set yet but this was the estimated price I was told) and it will be 50% off during their Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter will be launching in October, so do keep an eye out. They made a video with feedback from attendees of the Expo, and a few bloggers make it into the video, myself included (eeps!).

Teforia: The Teforia machine certainly looks sleek and impressive. It can extract the exact flavor profile you want from your tea, and even change the caffeine level and the amount of antioxidants. It's got lots of bells and whistles. It's a well conceived device and it does make a very good cup of tea (I sampled quite a few). However, I can't say this type of machine is really for me since I don't think it's necessary to pay well over $1000 for a tea maker. I also like the ritual of slowing down and preparing a cup of tea on my own, while interacting with my leaves. At the Expo I was surprised to see all of the demo machines leaking a bit. Someone mentioned they were prototypes, so hopefully they'll get things sorted out before they start shipping them.

The Wall tea steeper. This isn't a mechanical gadget, but a cleverly designed mug. Rachel Carter and I spotted this cup while walking the floor and we instantly fell in love with it. It's just a glass mug with a built in glass strainer that covers half the top, but it's good looking, and very functional. It was originally created for herbals, but it is perfect for grandpa style tea. I've been using it every day and I've been getting a lot of joy out of this mug. They come in 'large' (about 14 oz) and 'small' (about 10 ounces) sizes. I have the large, and it's a perfect size to keep in my office. The mug is large enough to get me through a long meeting with ease. I've even had a situation where the meeting went long, I finished my tea, and I was able to covertly examine the leaves while people kept talking around an issue without actually saying anything of importance. Priceless.

If you attended the Expo or read about other gadgets on display, I'd love to hear about what grabbed your interest. I think I still have a post or two about the Expo left to cover some important seminars. Hopefully I'll get to them soon! This crazy busy summer has made it difficult to find time for blogging, but I'm going to try my best to get it all covered, at least before the weather starts cooling down...