Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Depths of Infusion at Camellia Sinensis Montreal


Saying you're taking a 'tea class' at Camellia Sinensis really isn't the right turn of phrase. It's really more of a 'tea experience'. Yes, there is learning (quite a bit), and yes there is note taking (at least for me, the obsessive note taker). But this comes wrapped a relaxing sensory experience, getting lost in the leaf. Hours fly by unnoticed while you smell, taste, and feel the tea.

This is an intensive tea class, and I mean intense. As a group of 10 people we tasted nearly 60 teas over the course of two days, and some had multiple infusions. I was surprised that the amount of tea never became overwhelming, nor did it make me too caffeinated or tea drunk. This probably speaks to the calm atmosphere of the class, and the quality of the teas (and the tasty snacks).

I'm not going to get into the specifics of all the teas we had or curriculum we discussed, that would just be too much for anyone to read. But if you follow my Instagram page, I pinned a 'TeaSummerSchool' highlight, and I'll also be posting photos of many of the teas over the next week or so with a bit more information. I honestly didn't get that many photos (at least for a photo-obsessive like me), I wanted to try and focus on the experience
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Kevin Gascoyne making the tea

The Class
Over two days, the class was led by three of Camellia Sinensis' best: Kevin, Sebastien, and Alexis. Each instructor brought their unique knowledge and perspective, and had their own teaching style. I love that everyone was laid back, focused on the flavors and feeling of the teas while still conveying history, culture, terroir and processing (among other important tidbits). They gave a good foundation on each tea, and I enjoyed all the tasting notes everyone in the class shared.

The Tastings- Day 1
The class consisted of different types of tastings. We did group cuppings of multiple teas side by side, we sampled teas poured for us into small cups, and we infused others ourselves in gaiwans and gongfu pots.

We started the first day with a short group tasting of teas ranging from light to darker in flavor and color. The teas had a natural progression from delicate to dark and full bodied (they consisted of white, green, oolong, and black teas). When I asked Kevin why he put this varied group together, he said he chose them for the diversity of flavor and texture, but also as teas that weren't featured in the main part of the class. I appreciated the opportunity to taste these teas which, as Kevin mentioned, had a had a natural progression; similar to listening to songs carefully compiled onto a 'mix tape' (yes, I'm old enough to have made mix tapes. Many, many of them). They were very different, but worked well as a whole.

Darjeelings

We then had a presentation on Darjeeling teas, Kevin's specialty.  We tasted a bunch of teas from different gardens and flushes, young gardens vs. old, seeds vs. clonal. One of my favorites from the group was a first flush from Singell, a garden planted from seed in the 1860s. It's an open, Chinese style garden with leaves manufactured from each separate patch grown, to keep the flavor profile intact. This tea was surprisingly complex, energetic, and vibrant.

From Darjeeling we went to Japan, and Alexis guided us through an immense amount of information with ease. We talked about cultivars, culture, serving styles, growing, plucking, and processing. One interesting tidbit I learned was that gyokuro and matcha are 'aged' for a minimum of 3 months before finishing. We tasted some memorable teas, with the Gyokuro Shuin being the standout for me. It reminded me of slow-cooked kale, collards, and mustard greens, without any bitterness but all the deep green flavor and umami.

The Tastings- Day 2
We started the day examining Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs. We slurped down a line from light to more oxidized and roasted. I usually find myself gravitating towards darker oolongs, and that day was no exception. I appreciated the greener oolongs but found myself in love with a mucha tie guan yin that was roasted for 60 hours (slowly and carefully of course). My love for Wuyi yancha continued to be fueled by Bai Rui Xiang and Rou Gui Ma Tou. The Rou Gui stopped me in my tracks with its complexity. Spicy, sweet, floral, so many different things to feel. 'Ma Tou' refers to the specific rock formation where this tea is grown- it looks like a horse's head.

dark teas

After the in-depth oolong discussion we went to black teas. We had a chance to get hands on with brewing and also did a side by side cupping for a few of the teas. My favorites were a super floral Chuan Hong that tasted as if it was scented with roses and peonies. It was sweet and delicate. I also loved the Mei Zhan Zhen, which was complex and surprising. I kept tasting all sorts of things, from lemon to lavender, to chocolate. I brought some of this tea home and I hope I can replicate the experience.

We finished the day with many steepings of dark teas. Pu'er, Liu Bao, and other dark teas are the ones I have the least experience with. I was happy to sample so many teas, and taste all the complexities. By this point in the day, my notes are super spotty, as I  became more and more relaxed with each sip of pu'er. We discussed where you feel the tea as you drink it depending on the age of the plant (mouth feel, vs throat) and I was really able to notice the difference. And of course, that lingering kick of sweetness after the tea is gone.

Xiaguan 1986

We delved into teas with different storage, various ages, and of course different processing styles. There were many memorable teas but as I mentioned, I didn't note much with my pen. I do remember the Xiaguan 1986 as a standout, and it's a tea we were given to brew ourselves with a yixing pot. A 1994 7542 was also pulled out for us, and we all got lost in multiple infusions, taking us to new levels of flavor.


Overall
Having the opportunity to get deeply into these teas was quite a treat. The three instructors all used a good mix of fun, education, and flavor. They each had unique perspectives and the teaching was relaxed but very clear. I liked the balance of different ways of tasting the teas, from quick cuppings to more in-depth infusions. My one criticism would be to have more time with some of the teas. Since the class is only two days long, there is so much to get through. If it was possible to add a half-day to the class, I think it may allow for a bit more breathing room. But that also isn't easy for people to schedule.

A quick note on Montreal- it's a beautiful city that's very walkable, and super approachable. Everyone is friendly and most people speak both English and French. The food is also not to be missed.

Our tea group of 10 was a perfect size, we were able to get to know one another. I'm looking forward to staying in contact with many of my new tea friends. If you are curious about this program, feel free to send me a note and I'd be happy to talk more about it. I'm already wondering when I can go back!

3 comments:

  1. This sounds like an amazing workshop! Is this part of a series or is it a standalone workshop?

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    1. It was amazing! It's a standalone weekend class, but they also offer a more basic weekend class as well.

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  2. It was a great week end indeed. As a participant in the same class as Sara, I can honestly say that every thing she mentioned is accurate. Yet words cannot describe the Poetic fashion that Kevin. S├ębastien and Alexis spoke about tea or the love and respect they confer upon the simple leaf of Camellia Sinensis. As Kevin said...tea is a noble product. Hope you all take the journey into the tea world and find your perfect brew.

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