Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW: Jing Tea, Pre-rain Organic Anji Bai Cha

Emperor Song Hui Zhong was quite the artist, no?
Too bad he had no idea how to run an empire.

Jing Tea's Pre-rain Organic Anji Bai Cha


I was researching Anji Bai Cha and found this wonderful history. Regrettably, Friend Ningbo's Web site, China Travel, is no longer active. I'll publish the entire blog post here, just in case China Travel disappears. [boldface mine]

Harvested between 7 to 18 degrees Celsius on March 28, 2006 before Qing Ming! There was an emperor during the Song Dynasty named Song Hui Zhong (Zhou Ji) who was a great artist, and a passionate tea lover. He wrote a book about tea titled ‘Da Guan Cha Lun’ (A Discussion Focused on Tea) He wrote a whole chapter on Bai Cha, but he didn’t mention the source.

Lu Yu, the famous tea sage during the Tang Dynasty, described An Ji as a treasure of tea, but he didn’t mention the tea. It took 900 years for tea scholars and tea masters to put the two together and discover an ancient Bai Cha bush. It has taken since 1980 to propagate enough bushes to have a commercial crop. This is the most sought after green tea in China. It is rare and wonderful. We are proud to be the first company to import this tea from China. Bai Cha means white tea, but this is green tea, and despite the name it does not belong to the white tea category. The name comes from Zhou Ji, which likened it to white jade in water. This tea is sometimes called by tea experts An Ji Bai Pian. The soil where this tea grows is similar to the soil in the WuYi Mountains in that it is sandy, rocky and rich in minerals. The environment, of course, has a powerful impact on the tea. In the winter there is a stretch of cold for more than 20 days of -8 to - 10 degrees Celsius. This causes a decrease in chlorophyll. As the weather warms and the new tea buds and leaves start to grow, the color is a very light and yellowish shade of green, the veins being dark green. After the temperature reaches 23 degrees Celsius the leaves turn to a darker shade of green.

The tea harvest time for the best tea occurs for the short amount of time before the leaves turn color. During this period the amino acid theranine is double that of other teas. Theranine is an amino acid that is calming to the nervous system. The fragrance of this tea shouts FRESH, and the taste is very clean and sweet. There is a very limited amount of this tea.

This is why I like to read about the story of tea. Here we have a unique bai cha that was mentioned in a text written by the brilliant and tragic Emperor Hui Zhong, of the Song Dynasy, who lived from 1082 to 1135. Even earlier, the great Sage of Tea, Yu Lu (733-804) wrote his classic, The Classic of Tea (Chá jīng). In his book, Yu Lu mentions this unusual tea, as well. Well, some researchers put two and two together, and a great tea is reintroduced to the world after a hiatus of perhaps a thousand years. Or so it appears.

Further, I found this comment on the T Ching Web site, written by Austin Hodge, founder of Seven Cups (an excellent source for serious tea lovers):

...There has been a lot of confusion about ‘white tea’ and its origin. In the west, the confusion began with John Blofeld’s book The Chinese Art of Tea. Blofeld, who had never come across a white tea, said that it was rare and highly prized and had been more common during the Song Dynasty. He thought that there may have been some at the time in Fujian, but he had not tasted any. The Song reference is from the Da Guan Cha Lun, written by the Song emperor Song Hui Zhong Zao Jie. He loved what he named “Bai Cha,” which means white tea, but was really green tea, which was the only kind of tea that was produced at that time. He named it not for the characteristics of the leaf, but because the tea liquid was the color of white jade, a very light shade of green. This tea was rare at the time, and he made no reference the the area where it had been produced, though tea scholars feel that it had come from Anji in Northern Zhejiang province. During the time that Blofeld was writing his book a Bai Cha bush was discovered by researchers there in the 1980s. From that single bush the current crop of Anji Bai Cha has been propagated. It is important perhaps to note that all tea produced during the Song Dynasty was made into cakes, which were then ground into powder and then whipped tea with a whisk in the same way as matcha is prepared today. It is possible that the ancestor of the Da Bai Hao bush, Lu Xue Cha, was being consumed during the Song, it is unlikely that it is the ‘Bai Cha’ mentioned by Song Hui Zhong Zao Jie. At least Chinese scholars don’t think it to be likely, because it is supposed the tea produced would be a very rich green color. Fujian tea marketing would like to make the connection, but tea scholars disagree.

The origins of white tea production are not very old. Not until somewhere between 1772 and 1782 was white tea first produced. The process was developed by the Xiao family in Jiang Yang County in northern Fujian and the technique quickly spread to Fuding, Zheng He and Song Xi. The Xiao family wanted to establish a tea making process that would be more economical. They eliminated pan frying and shaping and minimized roasting. Still, not until the early nineteenth century did the evolution of the Da Bai Hao bush produce enough buds to make Bai Hao Yin Shen (Silver Needle) as its own distinct tea.

There is no steaming involved in the production of white tea, no in Chinese green teas in general. Unlike green tea production which is exposed to relatively high temperatures to remove moisture, white tea is dried naturally using sunlight or lower temperatures in doors helping to preserve tea polyphenols. The preferred method is drying by the sun, up to 90% if there is sunny weather. It is not often, however, that there is enough sunshine to provide this function. The alternative process begins with the tea after being withered in covered open sheds, then is placed on bamboo ranks inside of rooms that are radiator heated at about 40 C. It is important to note the care that Bai Hao Yin Shen is given when laying the buds on the racks, as if they were solders in formation, neatly lined, spaced and in formation. The room is well ventilated to remove the humidity with fans. During this natural drying white tea will naturally oxidize very slightly. Masters skill is shown in temperature control though the drying process, consideration for ambient temperatures during the all natural process and how thick the leaves are piled on to the bamboo drying trays. The tea is dried in this way to 70%. The final stage in either case is a slight roasting, in the past done by charcoal, is now heated artificially. Great care is used in protecting the color of the hair or fuzz so that it does not yellow.

Mr Pratt is also mistaken [in an earlier post, which is being discussed here] in saying that Bai Hao Yin Shen does not contain caffeine or chlorophyll and like all bud tea is very rich in tea polyphenols. The research of Lou Shou Jun, director of the Chinese National Tea Quality Control Center indicates that the bud of the Da Bai Hao bush is one of the richest in tea polyphenols of the Chinese varietals. In does in fact contain caffeine and chlorophyll, this were early myths about Bai Hao Yin Shen to explain the name, but have no basis in fact. The Bai Hao Yin Shen looks just as green on the bush as any other bud.

The other myth is that white tea is a rare tea. Actually the Da Bai Hao bush has been widely propagated through the support of the Chinese government. It is a major export crop. In the domestic market, because it buds early in the spring there by bringing a better price, and is made into green tea. You can find vast Da Bai Hao gardens as far north as the Ningbo area in Zhejiang province producing green tea. Ironically the once truely rare Bai Cha bush from Anji is also spreading quickly through the tea growing areas of Zhejiang and Anhui.

Still, it is all great tea.


Yes, that's why I love to read about tea. It may or may not be the long-lost tea, but it does taste, oh, so good.

In appearance, the leaves are long, emerald-green spears. They are obviously pan fried, in the classic one-leaf-and-a-bud configuration. I was impressed at their perfect appearance, with such nicely green, crisp leaves. Obviously, this tea has been well cared for, because the leaves would appear washed-out and less brilliant were they not stored properly. This tea smells a lot like the Dragon Well teas I've drunk, perhaps because of the pan frying.

1 tbsp per cup of filtered water, boiled then brought down to 65C, steeped 4 minutes in Great-Grandma's Japanese porcelain teapot.

The liquor is a pale, crystal gold. Happily, this Anji Bai Cha is quite smooth, not at all bitter. The Jing Tea Web site says it is "vivacious and exuberant;" I would have to agree, with this caveat: The tea didn't open up its flavors for me until the second cup of the first steeping, after the tea had an opportunity to oxidize a bit and develop its complexity.

My wife saw the dry leaves, and they were so delicious looking, she tasted some and convinced me to do likewise. The leaves were just a touch bitter when chewing, but they left such a refreshing, clear, bright aftertaste. I can see how people can make tea leaves into meals in some Chinese restaurants. Perhaps this green tea could be marketed as a candy by some clever teapreneur. Any takers?

This green tea-- it's not really white, but green, in spite of its name-- has such an airy mouthfeel and flavor with the first cup. Now, for the second cup, the tastes have opened up. Again, the "Second Cup" phenomenon shows itself, whereby heat and time combine to allow the complex flavinoids, and catechins, and so on in the tea to combine and recombine, forming new substances that were not there early on.

The mouthfeel is rather dry now, and so clean tasting-- like it is sanitizing my mouth. The flavor is now reminiscent of vanilla, pine, and iris-- a green Spring in a cup.

At first, the tea was just too quiet for me, and then on the second cup, bang, the flavors showed up. The tea liquor itself shared quite exactly the taste that I had experienced by nibbling on the tea leaves. There's that umami, the Fifth Flavor; and a pine-like grassiness, combined with very high, singing notes like lavender, or iris, or a grape arbor. The tea finishes with a very sweet huigan, which is complex and surprising.

This is a really satisfying cup of tea.

UPDATE: This tea review can also be found on

Monday, June 22, 2009

39 Steeps Is Trying Out New Templates

I'm a bit tired of the Blogger template, so I'm trying some new ones. I have no HTML fu, so bear with me!

Nigel Busts Tea Myths

In anticipation of Lainie Petersen's podcast tomorrow, in which she will be busting tea myths about caffeine in tea, I thought I'd repost Nigel Melican's tweets on the subject. (Please note, some changes on format, because they did not cut-and-paste cleanly.)

By the way, reading Mr. Melican's Twitter posts makes me feel like I have the inside scoop on all things tea. Do yourself a favor and just keep hitting "More". Much there about unusual tea origins, the chemistry of tea, and so on. Incidentally, he also corrected some misinformation I had about oxidation versus fermentation in black teas, while I was researching this.

  1. TEA MYTHS BUSTED No4: Black tea (at 16.5 mg/g) does NOT have significantly LESS AOX polyphenols than Green tea (=17.0)
  2. TEA MYTHS BUSTED No3: Green tea has SAME caffeine level as Black tea - based on 30 samples of each from German market
  3. TEA MYTHS BUSTED No2: White tea is NOT unbelievably rich in AOX - just 2% more catechins than Green tea (av of 30 each)
  4. TEA MYTHS BUSTED no1: White tea has MORE caffeine than green - White = 4.85%, Green = 2.9% (av of 30 samples each)
  5. The "30 second home decaffeination" myth blown out of the water: see

Dreaming of Tea Mountains

Today I awakened from a dream in which I was walking a quite steep cliffside in Himalayan tea country, trying to visit to an out-of-the-way temple on a high place, set amidst an inaccessible tea garden. I was so proud to get to the top of the hill, using handholds the last part of the journey, when I saw a grandmother with her toddler granddaughter happily using the stairs, which were just over the other side.

Undoubtedly, a commentary on my life: unnecessarily doing things the hard way, when an easier path is just around the corner.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Maeda-en Sencha Select

Quickly on the heels of my previous Maeda-en company green tea, I wanted to try another of their senchas: Maeda-en Sencha Select.

The leaves are mildly fragrant, with a fruity citrus high note. They are a very dark green, small, and a lot of broken powder, and they have a nice dry crunch to them, which shows me they've been stored properly, and kept away from the moisture that would degrade the quality.

For this sencha, I steeped at a fairly low temperature of about 70C for 2 minutes, which is the long end for this tea, from the advice found on their Web site. With the low temperature, you can steep longer; and the converse is true, as well.

The liquor is a gold-green with a small amount of fogginess, and it's quite attractive. The aroma matches that of the leaves; very green smelling, with that hint of citrus in the high notes, like a mandarin orange-- a kind of green-gold scent, if you will. The flavor is quite pleasing-- a robust flavor that reminds me a bit of the sea, of freshly mown hay. The vegetable note is quite noticeable. I can only discern the slightest bitterness, and there is a sweet, lingering aftertaste.

Not bad! As with the previous post, this Sencha seems to be a pleasing everyday tea that is quite comforting. I'm not a trained tea sommelier, so I won't hazard a guess as to how to pair this with food, but it is refreshing and clean, bright without being overbearing, and rather relaxed and friendly.

REVIEW: Maeda-en, Sen-cha Fukamushi Green Tea Select

Maeda-en is a green tea company I was unfamiliar with, until the folks at TeaViews gave me a sample of their Sen-Cha Fukamushi Green Tea Select. I've had a number of senchas before, though not of this type. A Fukamuchi sencha is described thus on the Web site:

Fukamushi Sen-cha (deep-steam green tea) is steamed for longer periods of time than regular Sen-cha, which gives its milder aroma and robust taste. Leaves tend to crumble because of this extra processing, and gives the tea its signature opaque quality.

Our Blender's Fukamushi Select is medium bodied with pronounced flavors of green tea, and is minimally bitter.

For a delicious cup, we recommend: 1 tbsp of leaves, brewed in 9-12 ounces of hot water (160 to 190), for 1 minute.

I was surprised at the very short steep time (1 minute), but perhaps because the tea leaves were small with a lot of powder in it, it would be bitter if steeped longer.

As the Web site described, this tea is a translucent jade green, which is a quality much loved by the Japanese. The tea is a mildly sweet, with an almost nutty, buttery flavor within the typically "grassy" green-tea flavor. There is very little bitterness, and it's very easy to drink. There is a very faint-but-sweet aftertaste, but it does linger quite nicely.

This tea is relaxing and relaxed; it's not mind-blowing or amazing in any way, but it's very comforting and would be a great everyday tea. My little seven-year-old boy enjoyed his very much with buttered wheat toast and declared he wants to be a tea maker. Or a computer game maker. Or maybe both. What I take from this is that it's pleasant for even a little American boy to drink without milk or sugar to alter the taste, and of sufficient quality to set him thinking of a future in tea.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

REVIEW: Green Hill Tea, Lapsang Souchong (Two Grades)

Green Hill Tea

(Please note update at end, with personal e-mail from none other than Norwood Pratt about this tea.)

My Internet friend, George Zhang, sent me several very delicious Lapsang Souchong teas recently, which were very popular with my family and friends. Also, a reviewer on, who is the resident Lapsang Souchong maven, wrote that Green Hill's LSs were "da bomb." I anxiously await her formal review on the Tea Reviews Web site to hear the rest of her thoughts.

You can purchase this tea here: Strangely, George's Web site does not reflect the various grades and prices of his different Lapsang Souchong teas, including those reviewed here. I would recommend contacting them directly via the Web site, in order to ensure you are getting the correct product. It is definitely worth the extra effort, and George Zhang is very helpful.

For me, as I've chronicled elsewhere, when I began my journey into the world of tea, I discovered LS many years ago, and I overdosed on it. After that, I have avoided smoky teas (including Russian Caravan, and some English Breakfast blends). When I mentioned this on Facebook, George challenged me that he thought his LS could win me over. I took him up on his challenge. He won.

I would like to invite you, fair reader, to explore high-end Lapsang Souchong further in a couple other blog posts I created regarding Green Hill's Lapsang Souchongs. In particular, the location and method of preparation for these teas, and how they are set apart from cheaper, less authentic LSs, may spell the difference between loving and hating this kind of tea. I know many people cannot stand Lapsang Souchong, who might love this tea because it is grown in the ancestral home of this type of tea, using just the right type of leaf, smoked in just the right way with just the right kind of pine tree. Because these specialized elements cost a lot to bring to the market, it's good to know that this is definitely worth it.

Link here:

and especially here:


Lapsang Souchong Special Grade

PREPARATION: 3 minutes, water just under boiling, 1 tsp to 1 cup

"Special" grade is the Green Hill Tea middle grade of LS. It was smooth, light, and the smoke was not at all overwhelming. There was a very pleasing huigan [sweet aftertaste] of roasted honey, which was quite surprisingly sweet for an unsweetened, smoked tea. Even my seven-year-old boy was able to drink this with no sugar or milk, because it was not in the least bitter. The liquor is a beautiful golden color.

Silver Tippy Lapsang (Top Grade)

Preparation: 3 minutes, just under boiling

I heated up the pot with the steam as the pot came up the boil. The aroma that came from the pot was very surprising-- bright, almost floral, with only a hint of smoke, but not at all overwhelming. Wow, so very fragrant.


SMOOTH, smooth, and very smooth. Very restrained, not too smoky at all. The cup is a very shiny, rich amber color.

My wife said: "Smooth. I'm not tasting any bitterness on my tongue right now."

It's in the aftertaste that the very high quality of this tea declares itself. The lingering huigan is honey, pine smoke, and a wisp of orchids or lilacs. Surprisingly mild, fragrant tea, and as smooth as glass or spun silk, without a hint of the acrid burn or heaviness one would expect from a typical Lapsang Souchong. What an extraordinary cup of tea.

UPDATE: Patty at writes:

BTW, I mentioned that tea to Norwood Pratt in passing (in an email), and received this back --

"I bet I know that Bohea you love--it's from the Jiang Family back in the Wuyi Nature Reserve if I'm thinking of the right stuff--simply the world's best."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

REVIEW: You, Me & Tea, Jasmine Silver Needle

You, Me & Tea has a high-end Jasmine Silver Needle white tea, which can be found on their Web site here. Silver needle is a quality designation known as yinzhen in Chinese. It indicates the tea is made only from the tea buds, and not at all from leaves. In this case, the tea is long spears, or needles, which because of the tiny white hairs on the buds, have a silvery appearance. This is a tea that is very carefully produced. It has to be flash-steamed quickly after being plucked, so the tea has minimal oxidation. White teas are typically very delicate and light.

There are a couple ways jasmine aroma and flavor can be introduced to the tea. One is by adding jasmine essential oil to the leaves. The tea experts frown on this method, though, and instead want their teas to be infused with jasmine aroma by placing the tea in close proximity to the flowers themselves. This can be done a number of times for the same tea, to get the desired strength of the jasmine aroma in the tea.

70C, 1 cup filtered water to 1 heaping tsp tea.

When I'm brewing a delicate white tea, I try to keep the temperature low and sometimes allow for a longer steeping time to make up for it. In this case, 70c and about 3-4 minutes' steeping time, with 1 heaping teaspoon of tea per cup.

The taste of this tea is crisp and clean, and it's pretty pleasant. That being said, the jasmine aroma and flavor were quite dominant, and I was not able to discern much of the white tea flavor. For those like my wife, Suzanne, who enjoy the jasmine aroma on its own, this would be a very good choice. But for tea drinkers like me, who really want to taste the tea in tea, this will not work so well.

REVIEW: You, Me & Tea, Golden Monkey

Montague Dawson, The Great 1866 China Clipper Tea Race.

Let me start by saying I truly enjoyed this tea. It's a fun tea, an exciting tea, an unusual tea that is definitely worth the time to explore.

The Chinese would call this type of tea a Dian hong, , or Yunnan Red (Dian being a contracted term for Yunnan). In China, a fully oxidized tea is called red, because the color of the liquor is actually a reddish hue. In the west, we think of this as a black tea. And the naming of Chinese teas often is quite fanciful, with something like Golden Monkey typically signifying a high-end, if not the highest-end, grade of tea. With the exception of pu-erh tea (which is also from the Yunnan region of China, and is a double-fermented, compressed tea) and Keemun (an oxidized red tea, which is what is often used for high-quality English Breakfast), almost all other tea from China is green or oolong. This hearkens back to the days of the tea trade, when the only people drinking black teas were the Europeans who had no choice, because the nearly year-long clipper ship voyage from China would naturally cause the delicate green leaves to oxidize into black tea. Interestingly, though, the production of uncompressed black tea in Yunnan is a recent innovation, only having begun production in the 20th century.

As is often the case, I wish the Web site description would have included more information. Just saying the tea is from China is not enough information to persuade someone to make a purchase, is it. You, Me & Tea describes the tea, thus:

Country of Origin: China

Cup Characteristics: A full bodied tea with an exotic origin character which tea tasters describe as "mouth-feel"

Infusion: Very bright and golden coppery color

Ingredients: Luxury black tea

The long, twisty leaves are a combination of black and gold, with a heady smell.

Nearly boiling water, 1 tsp per cup, 3 minutes.

In appearance the liquor is like a rich, amber ale (though without the bubbles, and steaming hot). This tastes very spicy and very, very unusual: an exciting, high-energy tea. In my notes, I described it as both "smooth and sharp," indicating the spicy brightness, coupled with a smooth mouthfeel.

This tea is wonderful and intense, and it commands my attention as I drink. The flavor is like hot metal and dark chocolate, though light and not heavy. This tea was good for at least three steepings, each with a satisfying, bright intensity.

Friday, June 12, 2009

EVENT: Tea Habitat 2nd Anniversary Open House Tasting

I've been reading Imen's posts for some time now, and drooling over her list of Dan Cong oolong teas. These are "single-bush" teas, with a very wide array of singular flavors.

Her shop, Tea Habitat, which is located in Palos Verdes, CA (just south of L.A.), is having a 2nd Anniversary Open House Tea Tasting on June 20, from noon to 7:00. There is a 15% off sale for the month of June, which I hope someone out there reading this will take advantage of. Please read this excerpt from Imen's blog:

We have plenty of great teas to try for the day. One special tea I must mention is the mother tree of Ginger Flower Dan Cong. This tea was sold at a whopping $7k price tag a pound. After 2 years of persistent begging, I have a small sample of the 2009 batch. It's merely enough for 2 sessions. We will be tasting that on the 20th. I have not had this tea myself and anxiously waiting for the right gathering to share with tea enthusiasts for a special occasion. :)

Contact information:
21B Peninsula Center
Palos Verdes CA 90274
Ph: 310-921-5282
We are located inside the arch atrium across from TJmaxx.

#FollowFriday on Twitter

#tea #ff #FollowFriday @teadesigner @billyshall @teamonk @teaessence @teareviews @jessetea @redleaftea @teapotandteacup @nimbleleaf @ChaiBabyTea @dr_oolong @teahabitat @TheCafeGuide @ForeignTea @samovarlife @jessetea @redleaftea @teapotandteacup @nimbleleaf @ChaiBabyTea @dr_oolong @teahabitat @TheCafeGuide @ForeignTea @samovarlife @thetearooms @MaedaEN @teapriestess @CoffeeNomad @fangtea @asaunders @Teradoll @joannedj @teaviews @cheftramonto @teatunes @laniep @jazzihong22 @CactiArtCafe @AeyalGross @TeaBoat @Lileks @Teance @ericnicolaas @teapimp @teavana @pearlfineteas @damnfinetea @rishitea @teacraftecm @darjtea @WorldOfTea @pembteaco @Vetchling @jasonowalker @JingTea @ChineseTea @nancyoverbury @grantmichaels @darjeelingtea @steepster @lisaknowstea @GongfuGirl @Teance @TeaViews

No idea what this means? Twitter is a service that allows you to be part of a 24/7 stream of consciousness and conversation by people interested in the same things you are. These names are the "handles" of some of the people I follow, who are interested in tea. You can follow me by joining Twitter here:

If you would like to share your own list of tea-oriented Twitterers, please pop them into the comments section. Thank you!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Twitter, Tweets, and Twaddle?

Recently posted in an online discussion:

Twitter is like CBs for people who can type. It can function similarly to a blog feed, except it’s being run by actual human minds, rather than a computer just dumping information willy-nilly on you.

I’m really interested in connoisseur-level tea, and on Twitter I found I could connect up with other people with my niche interest. One can find some extremely knowledgeable writers, many of whom have very intriguing blogs of their own or are involved in the industry in some way. I’ll write– and bear with me, because the example that follows is intended to show how niche interests can find this a good tool. If you find it boring, well, that’s the point, isn’t it? I don’t expect you to be interested in tea. But people who are have found a way of connecting via Twitter.

The example: I open up my Twitter account, using Twhirl software. I find someone “retweeting,” which means republishing, a short note (or tweet) by an Indian tea marketer, who lives in Darjeeling. Darjeeling is a region whose teas intensely interest me, because they are intense, bright, ascerbic, complex, and can be mind-blowing. I then click on this Twitterer’s name to read his tweets for the past few weeks (Benoy, I'm looking at you), and I decide to become a follower– a reader of his Twitter publications. He writes about how there is a drought in Darjeeling, which is causing the first-flush teas (the Spring harvest) to be very late. Links to longer comments on his blog.

I strike up a conversation with this man in Darjeeling, India about what he expects from the harvest of teas this year, and he responds back and tells me he expects the first-flush teas to come in (due to the rains that finally have appeared, hallelujah), but in very limited amounts. Buy some while it’s available! Sure enough, I see some of the best, affordable Darjeelings are out of stock already.

So my new Darjeeling friend decides to follow me, as well, to facilitate dialog. Other people who are searching for the term, “tea,” can see the back-and-forth between us and can chime in with ideas and advice. I discover new people who are tea connoisseurs, who can teach and inform me about this obsession of mine.

Eventually, several online tea merchants (including my Indian friend) send me teas, which they would like me to review on my blog. Suddenly, I am drinking absolutely fresh Darjeelings and Chinese Dragon Well teas, and on and on, that have been plucked only weeks ago, and are at their peak.

Also, there is a feedback loop with other forms of social networking and self-publishing. As I mentioned before, I can read short clips of longer blog posts and decide whether I want to follow up and read more. Also, people link to other posts of interest. In addition, Twitter can feed into Facebook. Indeed, Twitter is like the “update” on a Facebook account, but it can be read by anyone, not just your closest friends.

Indeed, as I write this, my Indian friend posted a Tweet (It’s the middle of the day in Darjeeling, though night time here), with a link talking about the brand-new, second-flush teas that are just arriving on the market in Darjeeling but aren’t available yet here in the U.S. (his blog post is, ) Now i know that my beloved second-flush teas are going to be a bit of a challenge to get this year, as well; and I should get ready to do some early purchasing online to get what I need.

The effect of Internet networking (via Facebook, blogs, corporate and personal Web sites, Twitter, and so on) on the emerging tea culture in the United States and elsewhere is very well written up by “corax” on the Cha Dao web site:

So, that’s one use for Twitter. Connecting up with others who share a niche interest (whether it be tea, technology, or politics, or a particular religious viewpoint) can be facilitated there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lainie Sips Podcast

Lainie Peterson has an interesting tea blog, and today I called in to speak to her on her podcast. Listen in and hear me blather on endlessly!

Go scroll down to the "Flavored Teas" podcast. We talked for about an hour about tea culture, Jun Chiyabari estate in Nepal, and how subtle and amazing teas can be.

UPDATE: You can find the link that goes directly to the program here:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

REVIEW: Thunderbolt Tea, 2009 Arya SFTGFOP1

When I drink a Darjeeling that is produced like Thunderbolt Tea's 2009 Arya Estate SFTGFOP1, I'm very aware that this tea has been anxiously awaited all year by people all over the globe, because the Spring flush in Darjeeling, India is unique. These teas comprise perhaps 2% of the entire India tea crop, and are typically handcrafted, specially produced teas.

These are not intended to taste the same from year to year, season to season, as "commodity" teas are. Yes, it is quite a skill to blend, say, a Tetley tea to taste exactly the same with every one of the millions upon millions of cups drunk every year. Instead, this tea is special. Each estate, each season, even each invoice-- the batches the teas are sold in, when they appear in the Darjeeling market-- is unique. It's amazing, and even sometimes a little sad, because you realize this exquisite thing you're drinking, once drunk, will be gone forever, and will never be exactly reproduced. There are characteristics that most great Darjeelings follow-- an ascerbic, very bright tone; a floral quality, a crystal-clear cup.

Now, that being said, I've had Arya estate Darjeelings before. Second flush, to be exact. Exquisite. The Arya estate has just about the highest standards for tea production, and they do make an attempt to follow organic farming.

This year was a bit difficult for the Darjeeling farmers, because there was a drought. When we in the Midwest of the U.S. have a drought, it's awful for the farmers, and can cause a serious drop of income for the region, and it might drive up the costs of, say, soybeans or corn. But the commoditized corn is produced elsewhere, and it will taste about the same. (I do not speak of specialized sweet corn, which can be quite special indeed.) But if the Darjeeling first-flush harvest flush were to fail, that's it. There is nothing that can replace it.

Anyway, in Darjeeling this year, there was serious concern that 2009 might not really have a first flush, because the drought was so rough. But at last, the rains came through, and there was a complete, if somewhat constricted, harvest. This means stocks are a bit low already, and many of these teas will already be purchased and gone by the time anyone reads this review.


Appearance of the cup: Rich, crystal, amber-gold

Olive green leaves, cut appearance. Very light aroma-- slightly floral, not very pungent.

  • Delightful, dry mouthfeel, bright berrylike flavor, with a full dark note
  • Honey sweetness, which remains in the lingering aftertaste
  • Light and airy, very pleasant
  • The aroma is rather faint.

The tea packs a kick on second cup, which as I've said before, is the "sweet spot" in any pot. The brightness is such a serious part of this tea! Smooth, even though there is this sharp quality. I am noting a brightly berry-like flavor in the high notes.

Still a lovely golden-amber color, though not as deep. The tea has lost a bit of its oomph, though, which is mostly manifesting in less of that sharp brightness. There is a more mellow, melon-like fruit note, and there is a buttery nut flavor-- a bit like the ghee I sometimes use to cook, though more like a faint echo of the flavor, without any heaviness. Very light, very transparent flavor. The tea is by far the best when drunk fairly hot, as it seems to lose something as it cools.

Web site:


Dry Leaves:
Arya SFTGFOP1 is amongst the first invoices from Arya Tea Estate. As is every Darjeeling First Flush tea, the dry leaves bear a greenish appearance with some amount of silver tips. Has a sweet, buttery and honey fragrance which is in turn nutty and flowery in nature.

Infused Leaves:
The infused leaves are green which appears fresh and raw. Has a sweet - resembling honey - a hint of fresh grassy and minty characteristics.

Most of Darjeeling First Flush teas have a weak cup that appears quite translucent in nature, but highly aromatic. This does not differ from the above statement. The cup is light and bright with some amount of astringency (this characteristic strengthens with longer steeping time, which is the case with all First Flush teas). It is highly flowery and nutty in its characteristics which is buttery and almondy. Has a sweet aftertaste.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

World Tea Championship Buyer's Guide

When you are making tea purchasing decisions, by all means have a look here. "One of each, please!"

Announcing the winners of the 2009 World Tea Championship.

(PDF format)

Thank you, Jason Walker, for the link.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

REVIEW: Thunderbolt Tea, 2009 North Tukbar Estate Darjeeling, First Flush

North Tukbar Estate tea from Thunderbolt (Thank you, Benoy).

What most people in the U.S. do not realize is that, like watermelon and pumpkins, teas also are seasonal. And taking advantage of the seasons is like eating a fresh ear of corn right off the cob, which was picked yesterday, as compared to popping open a can off the shelf, which has been sitting there for who knows how long.

A subtle Darjeeling first flush is picked in the Spring. Now, when this tea is plucked and shipped quickly, it can be vibrant, intense, delicate, and bright. But on the other hand, a first flush that sits around for a while (if not properly fired, or if it gets around moisture), it may become... indifferent. Not worth drinking.

So I'm happy that this season, I've been drinking '09 Spring Darjeelings in the Spring of '09.

Thunderbolt Tea has quite an assortment of '09 Darjeelings available, and they're seasonal. Benoy travels Darjeeling, tasting hundreds of teas to find the ones he believes to be the best value. He chose the '09 North Tukvar first-flush Darjeeling as a great buy. And at under $10 for 100g, let's see if he's right.

The Thunderbolt Tea Web site says:


Dry Leaves:
Well twisted dry leaves with fair amount of buds. The leaves are rather tiny with a blend of green and black leaves. It is highly floral and fruity.

Infused Leaves:
The infused leaves or wet leaves are rather tiny resembling the china leaf grade rather than the tagged "SFTGFOP1". It is sweet smelling with buttery notes.

The cup seems a little darker or has some body because of the leaf size. The cup is bright with lovely fruity and floral notes and has a taste that is sweet and fruity. Has astringency as others do. Its a good First Flush Darjeeling Tea which is made affordable for all.

A heaping teaspoon per 8 oz. cup of water. Culligan reverse-osmosis water brought to a boil then allowed to cool to perhaps 90C. I've tried this at a couple different steeping lengths, from 1.5 to 3 minutes.

The appearance of the leaf is as described above. When steeped, they do not have a very attractive aroma-- like spent tobacco, though a bit spicy, like a Yunnan.

This is a gold-amber color cup, with no hint of green to it. The cup does not have an enormous "nose" to it, though. The flavor: traditional, bright, Darjeeling sharpness. In the mouth, there is a slightly dry feeling at the back of the tongue. The mouthfeel is somewhat lacking, and I can't detect much texture or body. The flavor is on the fruity side, rather than the floral side, but with a bright astringency that balances the heavier fruit notes. Very consistent taste profile, which remains much the same throughout the tasting-- it doesn't evolve very much or reveal new flavor notes as it goes into the aftertaste. Nicely sweet, not bitter at all. There's a nice berries-and-tobacco aftertaste, which I find particularly enjoyable.

To get the most out of this tea, I would go a bit on the strong side, because the tea itself is quite light. Because this is a delicate first-flush Darjeeling, you don't necessarily want to steep this a full 3 minutes (1.5 to 2 min). So to get a satisfying strength, I steeped about 1.5 teaspoons per cup, though going up to 2 tsp per cup would also work. Obviously, this makes the tea's cost-per-unit go up quite a bit, but it's still by far the most affordable '09 first-flush Darjeeling among Thunderbolt's offerings.

If you wish to visit Tukvar Estate, says this:
Tukvar Tea estate is about 7km from Darjeeling town. Here you will see the colourful tea –workers who still pluck the leaves by hand in the traditional way against the spectacular backdrop of the tea plantations & the mountains. You will also be able to see the manufacturing process (subject to opening hours) and sample some of the garden’s produce.