Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tasting Notes: Culinary Teas, Irish Breakfast Green

Indifference is isolation.
In difference is texture and wonder.
(Edwin Schlossburg)

Looking at the leaves as they steep in my Tea-iere from JING Tea, I'm struck by the disjoint in visual texture. On top of the 75C water float largish, olive-green leaves, which slowly drift toward the bottom of the carafe as they gain water. On the bottom is a layer of what looks like some kind of water bracken-- tiny nodules in the same drab green, similar to stuff on the bottom of Clear Lake, in Buchanan, Michigan, where I go to swim and enjoy family and sun. And the liquor itself is a slightly foggy gold-green, which is much brighter and cleaner looking than the leaves themselves would suggest. The textural combination is visually interesting, but not what I typically expect with mixed-region teas, where some effort is usually made to ensure that the leaves appear similar to one another, as well as come together in an harmonious flavor and aroma.

I ordinarily don't drink many mixed-estate teas, much less those whose origins come from mixed regions: Culinary Tea's Irish Breakfast Green comes from Kenya, China, and Japan, and together they form a pleasant enough liquor, fairly light green with a hint of bitterness and a lightly floral, verging on citrus, note amidst the greenly vegetative impression the tea gives.

The instructions on the Culinary Teas Web site call for boiling water on the leaves for three to seven minutes, but I admit, I couldn't bring myself to follow the directions exactly. I could imagine using either boiling water with a duration of perhaps 10 to 30 seconds; or alternatively, 70C to 80C water for the longer duration, which is what I decided on. I think it's a mistake to steep a green tea in the Western style (which is boiling water, 3 or so minutes, as per the Culinary Teas Web site directions), because that tradition was created for black teas. Many people are turned off forever from green teas precisely because they follow this type of instruction, and they end up with a soupy mess that tastes like cooked spinach, completely missing the delightful nuance they might find with a lighter steeping. I, myself, spent 20 years drinking nothing but black teas for this very reason.

Prepared as a more typical green tea, this is enjoyable enough, though not particularly memorable; nevertheless, it does not remind me too much of the sharp, bright, hard-elbowed Irish Breakfast teas I have drunk in the past. I imagine that scalding the tea at a higher temperature and brewing it for a long time might provide that level of deliberate harshness, which is rather desirable in an Irish Breakfast, but can typically be cut by either milk or sugar. I didn't necessarily want to try a green tea with milk this morning, so I'll leave that to your own experimentation with this tea.

(The above image, brought to mind by my meditation on texture is Anselm Kiefer's Tes cheveux d'or Margarethe, 1981.)