Wednesday, April 22, 2009

REVIEW: Red Leaf Tea, Golden Nepal


Red Leaf Tea, Golden Nepal

THE TERROIR
Nepal is a country in the Himalayas, and its conditions are similar to that of the high Darjeeling lands. Elevations are 4000 to 5000 feet, generally, which cause its highgrown teas to have the intensity you'd see in the Darjeelings. In fact, there are tea farms in Nepal that create teas every bit as good as their Darjeeling counterparts. Nepali tea farms are usually small and family-owned, so there is quite a bit of variety to be found. And because the Nepal brand is not as well known as Darjeeling, it means the prices can be quite reasonable for somewhat similar teas. Let's see what we have here!

THE TEA

...

UPDATE: The nice folks at Red Leaf Tea have corrected their site after I pointed out that they had the wrong description. I deleted the incorrect information from this review, and now will use the new information to complete the review. Thank you, Red Leaf, for being so quickly responsive. Here is the description I find on the Red Leaf Web site:

Similar to Darjeeling tea, this high grown tea originates from the Antu Valley in Nepal. This tea features a pronounced flowery overtone and bright, yet mild flavor. This tea is best when served plain, so that you can enjoy the more subtle flavor qualities of this premium tea.

Sri Antu is in the Ilam District, which in turn is in the Eastern Region of Nepal. Ilam is directly opposite Darjeeling-- in fact, if you are on the tea garden in Ilam, you can see Darjeeling on the other side of the valley. Virtual Tourist describes it thus:

Ilam is the far eastern district of the country, inhabited by people of different colors living in peace and harmony. Neighboring the famous Indian hill town of Darjeeling, it is situated on the foothills of Mount Kanchanjunga, The third highest peak in the world. Ilam is adorned with an almost limitless range of lush-green tea gardens. The rolling hills covered with tea leaves are simply majestic. The thick white fogs alternatively descend to veil the gardens and then suddenly vanish. Greenery prevails all over the hills of Ilam all around the year. Ilam Tea Garden located near Ilam Bazaar and Kanyam Tea Garden located halfway between Terai plain and Ilam Bazaar are the major gardens of Nepal.

THE PREPARATION
2 generous teaspoons with 2 cups just boiled water, cooled to perhaps 210F, in Great-Grandmother's ceramic Japanese teapot. Just over 3 minutes steeping time.

THE LEAVES
The leaves look pretty typical for what you'd see with a cut-tear-curl Darjeeling: small, black leaves, with maybe a hint of golden tippiness. When I smell the dry leaves, I get a very pleasant fruity scent. After steeping, the leaves had a rather dry smell, not as fragrant as I would have expected.

THE CUP
This tea seems has a transparent orange-brown cup, moderately fragrant with nice fruit scent. When I taste the Red Leaf Tea's Golden Nepal, the cherry-like fruitiness reminds me of the only other Nepali tea I have ever drunk, which came from the Jun Chiyabari estate, and is sold by Tea Gschwendner. Not to get into a contest between these two teas, but the flavor profile of this tea is rather similar, though quite a bit more restrained than the Tea Gschwendner offering. I didn't know what to expect from this tea, but it hadn't occurred to me that the regional characteristics of Nepali teas would have such distinct flavor markers that I could pick them out this easily.

The tea has a nice, full mouthfeel, with that pleasing sour cherry, woody flavor and an unusual bite at the back of the throat. I am noticing a floral scent that starts to make itself known as the cup cools slightly.

THE SECOND CUP
As I repeat every time I write (in case this is the first review someone has read), I believe my understanding of a tea is enhanced by drinking a second cup from the first steeping of a pot of tea (after the leaves have been removed), so the magic of chemistry allows the flavor compounds in the teas to react to one another in the heat of the pot, creating new flavors that were not present at the first.

Very nice. The Golden Nepal is quite smooth by the time I get to the second cup of this tea. Naturally sweet without a dry mouthfeel at all; a very well-modulated, light cup of tea that I like quite a bit. To quote an old Buddy Guy song: "...Where the water tastes like cherry wine." The tea is sweet, nicely spiked with something like a sour-cherry flavor. Nice finish, though not dramatic.

AND A SECOND STEEPING, AS WELL
The second steeping is noticeably weaker than the first. Drunk hot, the tea has very little flavor or scent at all. Upon being allowed to move from Hot to Warm, the tea's flavors reassert themselves somewhat, though in more muted fashion than before. At this point, it feels a bit dryer and more ascerbic, a bit less smooth, and not so flavorful.
The second steeping is not terrible, but really not where the heart of this tea can be found.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS
A lovely tea for those who like Darjeelings and want to try something in the same vein, with a slightly different flavor profile. While not as ecstatic a drinking experience as the Jun Chiyabari was for me, nevertheless I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to taste it. Thank you, Red Leaf Tea, for sharing your tea with us.

2 comments:

Lainie Petersen said...

Great to see a Nepalese tea being reviewed! I just had my first taste of a Nepalese tea the other night at TeaGschwendner. Really delicious and the best tea of the whole tasting.

Steven Knoerr said...

Hello, Lainie: I'm betting the Nepalese tea you tried was TeaGschwendner's Jun Chiyabari, which I love (and I've reviewed it elsewhere on this blog).

Good to see you here! I've been reading your articles for some time, and it's great to find a tea enthusiast in the coffee-drinking Chicago area.