Wednesday, April 1, 2009

REVIEW: Tea tasting, Edmon's Collection, Tea Gschwendner

(Originally posted in Facebook. I will reformat this, with each individual tea getting its own blog post.)

I'm excited. On Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., I've reserved a spot at the Tea Gschwendner "Edmon's Tasting: New Arrivals" event, in Algonquin, Illinois. After the event, I'll post my thoughts on the new teas.

For those of you unfortunate enough not to live near a Tea Gschwendner, they offer a wide variety of high-quality, loose-leaf teas. Edmon's is their top-shelf line, and I'll get to taste this season's first-flush teas (I think) from Nepal, India, China, and Sri Lanka.

I'll bring my notebook to the tasting, so I can remember later in the year just which of these items I'll need to buy. They make the price of the event quite low ($10, including tea and food pairings) on the correct assumption that it's the gateway drug that will force me to dump hundreds of dollars in the season ahead on these withered, brown leaves.


AS I AM WRITING THIS MAINLY FOR MYSELF, I am going to kind of blog about my impressions of the overall tea tasting experience, and then the individual teas. This will force me to think through the experience and, hopefully, enable me to remember what I loved. If anyone else is reading this, feel free to skip if it's just too tedious and involved.

The Edmon's Collection is Tea Gschwendner's top-shelf. The teas can be quite expensive for my pocketbook, but can be amazing. They tend toward the first-flush teas, which are particularly popular in Germany, where TG is mainly located.

How lucky I am to have found this place, only a couple miles from my house! It's one of those things that seems ridiculously coincidental and thankful.

Lu An Gua Pian
China Fancy Pi Lo chun
China Qingshan Lung Ching
Nepal Jun chiyabari First Flush
Darjeeling Lingia First Flush
China Fancy Oolong
Ceylon Lovers' Leap OP
Assam Manalam

Sam Ritchey is a young guy who is extremely knowledgeable about tea. As you would hope he would be! It sounds silly to say this, but it's nice to be around someone who knows more about tea than I do, because that experience never happens to me. Not that I know so much, but as an American surrounded by a world of coffee drinkers, I'm pretty much alone in this tea passion. Sam has been to the tea estates in China, and Nepal, and Darjeeling, and... well, I don't know where else. He's been learning the craft, and I wonder how knowledgeable he will be in another 20 years or so, and what he'll be doing with that knowlege.

Anyway, Sam Ritchey had a slide show that accompanied the teas above. They had also arranged for some small food pairings-- not a whole meal, just some small nibbles to help contextualize the teas a bit. The Asian teas were accompanied by some crackers with salmon and veggies; the Darjeelings had homemade oatcakes dipped in chocolate, reminiscent of Hobnobs; and the Assam Mangalam was paired with a tiny creme brulee, which served to cut the heaviness a bit.

There were nine people at the tasting (other than the employees). Smallish crowd, and only none seemed particulary obsessed with tea. It worries me when there are small crowds, because I fear they'll end up closing the shop if they don't get enough attention.

The teas were brought out sequentially, in clear pots and poured into wide, white cups on saucers. This was helpful, because it allowed me to really see the colors of the teas. Additionally, they had small divided bowls that they used to present the leaves in dry and in wet, steeped form. I really like this, because part of my enjoyment of a good tea is to smell and touch the leaves, which gives a whole new level to the experience.

As we were drinking, we took time to smell, look, taste, feel, breathe. Sam would ask us our responses-- again, not many people were terribly responsive, and there were some guys who were obviously dragged there by their girlfriends. But I tried hard to ignore my rising embarrassment at my enthusiasms being nakedly displayed in front of others, because this doesn't come up too often.

[NOTE: Updated to correct the spelling of Sam's last name.]