Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Surprise of Crocuses and an Alchemy of Tea

{ A Surprise of Crocuses }  
When I was, oh, 10 or 11, Dad had a secret. During early Autumn sometime, he made my sister and me PROMISE not to tell Mom what we were up to. Like spies or ninjas, we went to the backyard with a TOP-SECRET bag, and we dug little holes, into which we put what I now know are called, corms. We had no idea what these were, and Dad wouldn't tell us. Winter came. Christmas with its usual abundance of toys, fun, exhaustion, energy. New Year came and went. Snow was still on the ground. Valentine's Day. Every day, now, Dad would (secretly) ask us to look in the backyard to see . . . what? We didn't know, the little holes we dug having been long forgotten.

Then one morning in early Spring, all over the still-snowy yard were an abundance of crocuses, purple and yellow and blue bundles of flowers, scattered everywhere. This was the surprise for Mom that we had waited for all Winter long. A delight of crocuses, and snowdrops, and who knows what else we had planted as a way of being welcomed by Spring and of saying, "I Love You," to Mom. I imagine she still remembers that wonderful Spring to this day.

and now to the tea

Ah, yes, you've been waiting for me to write about tea again, not about flowers. Well, I had a surprise waiting for me this month. I had made an order from Chicago Coffee and Tea Exchange, who provide decent-quality tea without much ado. They were the source of my first true tea education, and I am forever grateful. Kevin handles the orders over there, and he's always helpful in locating something special hidden among the bins for me to try out.

So amidst my order, he had sent me something called Imperial Gold Oolong. Not a terribly expensive tea--in fact, quite affordable. (Which is why I love Chicago Coffee and Tea Exchange. On my limited budget, I can afford to get enough tea to last a few weeks rather than a few days.)

Imperial Gold Oolong is the surprise crocus in my story. I didn't expect it to be anything special, but it was, quite. Highly fragrant, the aroma wafts from the carafe as I let it rest before drinking. The leaves are typical rolled bundles, which open up into perhaps 1/3-inch-long leaves.

This tea's source is unnamed, and neither is its plucking date listed on the website. Honestly, in Chicago--a coffee-drinking city if ever there was one--there's really not much of a tea culture, so fastidiously sourcing an oolong would be meaningless information for pretty much their entire clientele. Who are in there for the coffee, anyway.

I prepare the tea in gongfu style-- lots of leaf, high temperature, short steeping times. I place my preheated Yixing pot into a wide bowl of steaming, then boiling, water. This helps keep the temperature high as I steep. In gongfu style, you don't allow a long steep to mix all the flavors together. You break up the drinking experience into chapters, in a manner of speaking, which lets you catch the drink at different points in its development. First, the introduction. Then, the characters introduced, the plot is introduced. The storyline comes to its conclusion, and then there is a nice epilogue as the tea can be resteeped as many times as your patience and interest allow, until the tea is a mere wisp of aroma on the clear water.

The first steeping of this tea is particularly aromatic, bright, complex, floral and fruity at once, with a bit of wildness hiding behind the more conventional flavors. If a forest walk smelled like this, it would draw you down an unfamiliar path to an unknown destination.

{ Tea is part science, part magic }  
The second steeping is even better. I oversteeped it only slightly, so it has a somewhat sharp--but not bitter--edge to it at first. But the fragrance is so bright, I wish I could share it with you right now. As the tea sits in the pot for a few minutes, it oxidizes slightly; and the deep gold, transparent liquor mellows a bit, with that almost tartness dissipating. HINT FOR TEA DRINKERS: If, like myself, you've ever oversteeped that delicious oolong of yours, just let it sit for a few minutes. The heat + biomaterials will engage in some alchemy while it "rests" and you wait, causing the flavors to deepen and mellow. Try it sometime, rather than dumping the tea and starting over.

SO . . . I have no idea where this tea comes from--though, if I bothered to pick up the phone and call Kevin, I'm sure he'd be able to tell me something more about it. But the beauty of this is the surprise element. Don't know where it's from. Don't know when it was picked. Don't know anything other than that it's a joy, made doubly so because it's affordable.

Thanks, Kevin, for including this in the package you sent. My UPS guy always wondered why my coffee packages from Coffee and Tea Exchange would arrive without a coffee aroma, and he never had any time for me to make him a cup to show him what he's missing. Too bad for him, but great for me.

note on coffee & tea exchange

Coffee and Tea Exchange is great for decent-quality and even high-quality tea on a budget. They take good care of their clients, and I've found them to be a wonderful resource in learning what the heck a Darjeeling is, or introducing me to something called Hairy Crab oolong, and so on. Go to their Website when you need a package of tea to get you through the mornings, but you just don't feel like writing an essay about everything you have in your cupboard.

4 comments:

Kate said...

IS...

Herbal Tea said...

I love your blog. Such great reads and great videos. Keep up teh great work!


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Allison said...

A very enjoyable blog. I love tea and find that not all enjoyable teas are expensive, and not all expensive teas are enjoyable.