Wednesday, April 1, 2009

REVIEW: Darjeeling, TGFOP, Margaret's Hope Estate, Autumnal Flush (from Tea Gschwendner)

Today I try my new Darjeeling from the Margaret's Hope estate. It's an autumnal flush, which is not typically my favorite (I prefer 2nd flush), but it's interesting nevertheless.

The package description from TG: "The autumn harvest offers another excellent tea. This Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP) is pleasantly scented, airy, aromatic with a bright liquor; refined medium quality. Tip: 3g tea leaves (1 heaping teaspoon) per 8oz cup of filtered, boiling water. Allow to brew 3 min."

Cast-iron tetsubin pot, filtered boiling water, 3 minutes. Sit teapot for maybe 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to develop.

The leaves after steeping: Green and brown leaves, like a forest floor. Quite a bit of stem mixed in with the leaves, which appear cut. In order for the tea to be any good, the leaves have to be cut or torn or crushed or otherwise mangled, so that the cellulose walls that contain the delicious leaf juices are broken, allowing flavor and aroma out. For this, the leaves have a delightful smell, very fragrant. It reminds me of grape leaves, mixed with cigarette (but not in a bad way!), and some smell I can only identify as Clear Lake, Michigan-- the place I spent my summers growing up: leafy, sandy, lake-y. The smell reminds one of cigarettes, but not a hint of smoke-- if you can parse that! A very green smell. Isn't it amazing, that so much pleasure can be derived from smelling tea leaves after they've been steeped? It's a very serious pleasure that is not to be missed, like the aroma from a bowl of flowers, or perfume.

In a white cup, the tea liquor takes on a crystal-clear golden-brown color. It's fairly dark in color. (Contrast with a 1st flush Darjeeling, which would usually be a pale green-gold, and a 2nd flush, which would be a deeper gold, but nowhere near a brown).

The tea itself has a very light aroma-- lighter than the tea leaves I discarded. It's hard to describe it, but it has a hint of caramel.

The first thing that hits my tongue is the acidic quality-- that bright sharpness I value in a Darjeeling (though some like theirs more mellow). Then the tea starts to develop flavor in my mouth, going from sharp, to sweet and aromatic. It has an almost fruity flavor hiding in the background, like mango, perhaps; citrusy and unusual. Rather dry mouth-feel, which I like.

Of course, that's the first cup. The real test will be: How does the second cup taste? I find that the second cup in a pot is always better than the first, because by then all the complex chemistry that is going on in that hot pot-- theanine and flavinoids and whatnot, combining and recombining, releasing flavors that don't even exist yet in the first cup-- will have developed the flavor enough to really get to the spirit of the cup. So to speak.


Ahh, the second cup. That's where the business is. Now there is a more pronounced woodiness, and almost a salty wildness, like the smell of a sand dune in winter. (I know, these descriptions sound fanciful and ridiculous. But the flavor and smell centers in the brain are very closely related to memory, which is why smells so often trigger these complex emotions and memories. So indulge me as I take a walk through my emotional scrapbook, as being evoked by a cup of brown leaf juice.)

For all that, this is still a fairly restrained cup of tea, and I am pretty sure my description is reaching a bit-- these smells and flavors don't necessarily smack me on the head, but they have to be arrived at upon sitting and thinking hard about what I'm experiencing, and followed by a clumsy attempt at turning that experience into words.

A lot of people don't get Darjeeling, and I believe it is because of a couple reasons. The first and most important reason is lousy Darjeeling, which cannot be sourced or identified by what flush, what place, that kind of thing. It would be a good thing to find a high-quality Darjeeling dealer that can offer a number of choices, then experiment. The close second reason would be that so many people oversteep Darjeelings. When a Darj's directions say 3 minutes, they mean 2:59 or less, and not a second more. Darjeelings can be horrid, bitter brews when done wrong; and light, effervescent, evocative cups when done right.