Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fukamushi-cha with a Gyokuro and a Sencha

When I was at Sanko last week getting more 2010 Gyokuro I also found some (beautifully packaged) Fukamushi-cha and thought it time to go a bit deeper into the Japanese tea world and do a taste comparison.  I'm only just beginning to scratch the surface of its many variables -- types, steaming level, amount of sunshine, seasonal plucks, etc.  This is the first Fukamushi-cha I've (knowingly) tried.

What is Fukamushi-cha?  From O Cha's site:  "Fukamushi Sencha, known in Japan as Fukamushi-cha, is sencha which is steamed for a longer than normal period of time during it's processing. This green tea is often grown at lower elevations. An expert tea grower will steam his tea according to the right conditions for each individual yield, and much knowledge and experience is required in order to adjust it just right. Fukamushi-cha tends to have a thicker, cloudy consistency and the loose leaf is finer."   

Being a steamed green tea, the water temperature should be quite low and again, I found ranges of recommended temperatures from 65C to 75C.  The steaming process starts to break down the leaves which makes them fragile so they need to be treated gently with cooler water than, say, any black tea or even a Chinese green tea which is more traditionally baked than steamed.

I was not aware until recently that Japanese green teas can be lightly, medium or deeply steamed.  This would affect their ideal brewing temperature and how you steep them too.  Oy the head spins.  (I'm keeping in mind the mantra that it's all in our own taste buds though and forging ahead.)

From left, the dry leaves of Gyokuro, Fukamushi-cha
and Organic Sencha.  Click image for a closer look.

So here goes -- because I have three different types of tea I decided to compromise on the water temperature and brewing times and do all three at 75C for 1 minute.  I don't know what I was thinking, really, since it wasn't perfect for any of the teas.  But, it certainly exaggerated their flavours which wasn't a total disaster for a contrast-and-compare type tasting.  For subsequent tastings, I brewed each individually at appropriate temperatures.  

Dry Leaves
Very different look to them from colour to texture -- some beautiful rolled needles in the Gyokuro, very powdery Fukamuchi-cha and rather rough looking organic Sencha with some whole leaves evident.  Hard perhaps to see in the photo above, but, although all three are deep, rich greens the Gyokuro is bluer-green, the Fukamushi-cha more leaf green and the Sencha lighter, more a yellowy-green and with yellow stalks through it. 

Wet Leaves
The Gyokuro leaves give off rich, soft, buttery spinach and seaweed-marine aromas.  By contrast the Fukamushi-cha has a noticeably sharper aroma dominated by what I think is a nut paste, like chestnuts.  On the second brew at a cooler 65C there was an initial almost unpleasant rotting aroma and then the nut paste notes.  The organic Sencha was very different -- after a nice sharp green tang, more like sweet wet hay with a whiff of mustiness.

First hot brew of Gyokuro, Fukamushi-cha and
organic Sencha.  Notice how cloudy they all are
from the too-hot water.

As you can see in the photo, all three teas were quite cloudy as a result of the hot first brew I did, although the Sencha was the least affected.   On subsequent cooler brews none were as cloudy although the Fukamushi-cha was always quite cloudy, a result of the extra long steaming.

The Gyokuro gave me what I love and is very smooth and oily/satiny and big on the mouth (no astringency at all) with a soft buttery spinach flavour, with some of the nut paste.  By contrast the Fukimashi cha has some very nice bitterness, also quite a smooth mouthfeel, raw spinach flavour and then fishy!  Yes, like salmon.  On the second, cooler brew (65C) there's, not surprisingly, less bitterness but still a nice sharp tang which lands in the middle-back of the tongue, and after the sweet spinach comes the salmon flavours.  It has very little astringency; is still quite cloudy but not as much and a beautiful rich green.

The organic Sencha is distinctly golden in colour as compared to the bluey-jade green of the other two, and in a completely different taste spectrum.  It's bright, tangy, quite astringent, with a thinner, lighter mouth feel, and a sharp fresh tongue furring bitterness.

Mmmmm. A lovely way to spend a few hours on this Christmas afternoon before the family feast.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GYOKURO 2010. Yum.

I hopped into Sanko yesterday and their fresh Gyokuro had arrived.  This was $10 for a 50gram bag.  I'm only telling you so you understand that this cannot be the really good stuff.  But OMG.  When I opened the bag I was knocked out by the rush of its big rich sweet aroma.  I decided that it would definitely be worth brewing this up in spring water (although I hate the plastic bottle it comes in) instead of (pretty decent) Toronto tap water.  Just to up the potential for the sheer joy in the tea, know what I mean?

Brewed in 72C water for 1 minute.

Fresh 2010 Gyokuro from Sanko -- if you click on the photo
you can really see the rolled needle shape and the delicate
tea dust covering it all.

The dry leaves show a more uniform needle shape than the batch last week, but then that was the end of the package.  The leaves are a lovely deep blue-green and are shiny and smooth.  It's also showing fewer bright green bits and those bits look more yellow than green when compared to last week's Gyokuro.

The wet leaves, wow, much more depth/nuance to the aroma.  Immediately get more of the wonderful marine scent, more of the vegetal, and great sweetness and something nutty, like ground hazelnuts or Brazil nuts. (I should know my nuts better!)

The liquor has quite a bit of colour -- jade blue-green, is lightly cloudy and has tea dust floating in it.

Gyokuro -- note the little bits of leaf dust.

The flavour is very nice.  Interestingly, while the flavours are bigger, broader, deeper than last week's Gyokuro, its mouthfeel is not quite as big and satiny smooth.  There's no astringency but I can feel a slight burr of the leaf bits.  It's quite pleasant but I wasn't expecting it.  This tea also has more of a distinct but light, and very nice, tang at the back of the tongue after it goes down. Overall this is the most flavourful Gyokuro I've every had.  A real treat, and yes, a joy.

I think I'm coming to the opinion that fresh tea is really the only way tea should be drunk.  (Except for Pu-er, of course.)  Definitely current year's production, and best not over six months old.  Sadly, I probably won't be able to find this tea most of the time.  And my overstuffed tea drawer(s) mean I'm guilty of over-aging the tea too.

I will keep brewing this tea over the next few days, and add some notes.  It's possible that in my rush I may not have let the water cool enough.   Which means, oh darn -- I have to taste more Gyokuro.

CUT TO: Two days later.
Ok, this tea improves with a cooler steep -- and it was already bringing me joy.  Yup, when those in the know say 'steep this at 60C to 65C' gosh darn it they know of what they speak.

Yesterday I steeped it for 1 minute at 64C and noticed it had a rounder, smoother feel in the mouth. And today I've done it at 62C and it's definitely rounder, smoother in the mouth and sweeter overall because it's lost pretty much all but a little note of its bitter tang.  I didn't mind the bitter tang with all the sweetness but it was, in hindsight, brought out by the hotter water.

The liquor is, naturally, a paler jade green, still abit cloudy but not as much.  The wet leaves give more of the wonderful ground nut aroma and a slight toastyness.

Oh Yum.

It's tulip time at the corner grocery stores again in Toronto and I've a bouquet in the middle room that, every time I stride by, overwhelms with its wonderful sweet green-peppery aroma.  I love, love the smell of fresh tulips, don't you?
OK, nothing to do with tea but oh my do these tulips smell good!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GYOKURO, it's sublime

I got this Gyokuro at Sanko, a Japanese grocery store along Queen St West last winter.  They're a good source for good quality fresh Japanese teas, as I've posted here before.   I know I've gushed about Golden Monkey as my current favorite here a couple times but good Gyokuro comes a close second these days.

Gyokuro is a high-end Japanese green tea which is shade-grown for at least the final three weeks before harvest.  Dark netting or bamboo fencing is hung over the tea plants and the shading causes the plant, in this sunlight depleted environment, to struggle so it goes into overdrive and creates extra everything:  caffeine, theanine, chlorophyll, etc. This means it has a dark green leaf (lots of chlorophyll) which gives it a distinctive pale bluey-green liquor.  Gyokuro translates as Dew Pearls or Jade Dew and the jade reference is a good one for its colour.

Per The Story of Tea (p.183) the "extra boost of green chlorophyll pigment changes the natural balance of caffeine, sugars and flavanols in the leaf, creating the opportunity for the tea processors to coax added sweetness from the leaf.  In addition, the absence of photosynthesis increases the presence of naturally occurring theanine (an amino acid that is believed to induce relaxation), which is the component of tea that is responsible for giving tea its vegetal taste. Usually photosynthesis reduces theanine and increases tannins."

And per The Tea Drinkers Handbook (p.199) Gyokuro "is made by a process introduced in 1835 at Uji" and the shading "increases the proportions of sugars, amino acids, and caffeine, decreases the amount of catechins and modifies the aromatic compounds of the leaf, which darkens in color."

Gyokuro's flavour, aroma and mouthfeel as result of all the shading is the wonderful trade-off for the extra caffeine.  Myself I can't drink it after 4pm or I'm up all night.

Gyokuro dry leaves showing the tea's distinctive dark
bluey-green needled leaves.  This is the very end of the
batch I bought so there's quite abit of dust here too.

Brewed at 75C for 1 minute.

The dry leaves are mostly a shiny dark green with flecks of bright green, and feature a lot of beautiful tightly twisted needles.  As I peer closely at them a sweet, rich almost floral scent wafts up, a bit of rose even.

Gyokuro is very delicate -- the plant is stressed to begin with and the steaming, as usual, starts breaking down the leaf anyway.  All to say it should be steeped at a low temperature.  Some say as low as 60C. to 65C.  I did this cup at 75C by bringing the water to a boil and pouring it off into two different creamer jugs (my own version of the yuzamashis in Japan) before pouring over the leaves.  (Each pour drops the temp about 10C and I paused and, yes, double-checked with a thermometer, before pouring onto the leaves.)  Another low-tech way to check for the correct temp is that if the cup is too hot on your fingers to comfortably pick up the water is too hot for Gyokuro.

Gyokuro liquor -- a lovely, clear pale "jade" green.

The liquor is a gorgeous pale blue-green and quite clear -- there are a few small flecks of green leaves in the brew.  In the mouth it is soft and oily and round and smooth -- no astringency.  Not to go too into left field here, but it's like the wonderful rich satiny oilyness of perfectly cooked salmon. 

The flavours are sweet, buttery, lightly vegetal with a whiff of the ocean, and a nice tang at the back and sides of the tongue at the end.

Japan alone consumes more than it produces -- it's gone to China and other parts of Asia to make up the difference.  As a result I understand very little of the really good stuff comes overseas.  To my young-in-experience tongue this is a very nice tea, and I feel lucky that Sanko is nearby and caters to a knowledgeable Japanese clientele so that it's on offer.  Imagining that there are even better examples of Gyokuro out there is truly something to look forward too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


As I have mentioned before, Golden Monkey tea from China is currently one of my very favorite teas.  I first had it, and continue to refresh my cannister, from Tao's tea shop.  But when I was in my neighborhood  Tealish recently I was delighted to find they had brought in a 2010 Golden Monkey.  Fresh tea and Golden Monkey -- two of this girl's current loves!

The two teas look very different and have distinct flavours but are both wonderful, exhibiting the tea type's classic sweet flavour and soft mouthfeel.

Golden Monkey is a black Chinese tea originating in the Fujian province.  On the coast, Fujian is the country's biggest tea-producer as well as the producer of the widest range of teas. From what I read, Golden Monkey is traditionally a Mao Jian pluck meaning it's a bud and one slightly larger leaf (as opposed to a Mao Feng pluck which is two equal-length leaves and a bud). 

I want to take a minute on this tea's name.  There are a number of explanations for it and then my own theory.

1.  From  Chinese Tea Supplier
In earlier times Golden Monkey was the tea of Taipans and local overlords. They claimed that the secret for this tea was that it had to be plucked by the golden monkey which centuries ago inhabited the forests of Fujian Province. This special tea was very rare and the Taipans demanded every ounce of tea because they claimed that it gave them ‘the agility and prowess of the patriarch of a golden monkey troop’. 

2. From many sites (probably quoting each other) including Wikipedia:
According to legend, this particular tea grows in lofty and precipitous peaks making it difficult to pluck the leaves so local people trained monkeys to pluck the tea leaves, hence the name.

3. From the Adagio Tea package:
The name comes from its unique appearance: the leaves resemble monkey claws.

Here's my theory.  Have a look at this Sichuan Golden Monkey's colour and lovely furry golden arms and compare it to the photo below of the tea's lovely furry golden buds -- now tell me, where do you think the name came from?
This image of the endangered Golden Monkey
was captured from the site

Please click on this photo to enlarge it to appreciate the
wonderful furry golden leaf bud tips in Tao's Golden Monkey
tea and compare it to the monkey's furry golden arms.  Nuh?

Just off-the-boil water for 2 minutes.

And while we're waiting for the teas to brew, a look at and deep inhalation of the dry leaves. (A colleague in the biz  passed along that if you exhale onto the dry leaves before smelling them you slightly infuse them with the moisture of your breath and they give off a stronger scent.  Neat huh?)
Two Golden Monkeys: Tao's on the left, Tealish's on the right.

These two teas look and feel very different as you can see from the photo above. Tao's Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu (fine Golden Monkey from Zhenghe) is much fluffier, the leaves smaller and more spidery and it's comprised almost entirely of bright furry golden buds.  The aroma of its dry leaves is sweet, already giving off toffee notes.  The Tealish G.M.'s leaves are thicker and larger with fewer furry buds which are a darker, beautiful rich orange.  It is also giving a sweet aroma but less candied and more like lovely sweet buttered spinach.

Tao's G.M. wet leaves are an even light brown, and are long and even looking kind of like miniature brown pea pods.  This is the still-rolled leaf and leaf bud.  The Tealish G.M. wet leaves are broken, darker, and a more traditional coppery brown with a bit of dark green showing.

Both give off first notes that are sweet and soft.  Tao's G.M then comes through like buttered whole wheat toast, while the Tealish G.M.'s sweetness is more sweet buttered spinach and overall has a sharper, darker aroma --is that a breath of anise or liquorice in there too?
Tealish Golden Monkey wet leaves.  Some broken whole
leaves, some buds on left, and a slight green cast
to some of the leaves.

Golden Monkey from Tao's Tea House wet leaves.  Note
one leaf and a bud and the beautiful evenness of the pluck.

The Tao G.M brewed liquor is distinctly orangey-red and abit cloudy which, on closer examintation, is due to the fine bud hairs floating about.  In contrast, the Tealish G.M. is very clear and bright and a lovely, red-brown.
Two Golden Monkey's -- sourced from Tealish on the left,
and from Tao's Tea House on the right.  They brew to quite
different colours -- much more orangey-red on the right.

Both are light to medium bodied with little or no astringency, and when they've cooled give a hint of smokeyness.  Although they both feature buds, I did not find either of these teas to be high in caffeine.  (In general, China bush teas tend to be lower in caffeine.)

I brewed each of these four times over a couple of days, and I must say it's easy to overbrew, especially the Tao's G.M., to bitterness.  However, when not overbrewed both these Golden Monkeys deliver on the type's renowned sweet cup -- caramel to toffee notes, over a light base of typical black tea tangyness.

In a way this is a most unfair brew-off.  Tao's G.M. is a higher grade tea -- starting with its gorgeous good looks, but the Tealish G.M. has the advantage of being fresh and therefore offers a wonderful breadth of tasting notes. 

The Tao G.M is pronouncedly sweeter and smoother with more toffee'd notes.  It really is a very fine tea, and a fine example of a Golden Monkey.  (It's price point is almost double, not surprisingly.)  However, the Tealish G.M did not disappoint and, being fresh, offers some sharp, dark notes and a light toastyness which provide a balance to the sweet caramel notes. Because it's fresh it also gives hints of other things, like the possible flash of liquorice I mentioned.  Although I find it hard to believe, I've read that some people find Golden Monkey too sweet -- the Tealish G.M. could be just right for them.  

Personally, I generally keep Tao's G.M to savour as an afternoon tea but have been digging in to the Tealish G.M. for breakfast. 

Friday, November 12, 2010


My current constant quest is to find really fresh, current year or, if possible, current season tea.  On the very rare occasions that I've had the pleasure of  tasting such fresh tea the flavour has been down on your knees astounding.  So much more breadth of flavour profile it's revelatory.  The first time was a Kenyan tea that a classmate (who had recently admitted he was a tea blender/importer) provided which had been made just three weeks earlier.  Wow.   High notes, bottom notes, fuller middle notes.  Huh.  Who knew.

Not that most tea one buys at a reputable place isn't quite splendid but, really.   You know when you pick fresh basil from your summer garden and you get the greeness, the fresh-air quality, the exotic, almost bitter full spicyness of basil as compared to perfectly good dried basil that gives you that, well, basil flavour....?  That's the difference between really fresh tea and just regular good tea here in North America.  I saw a short film on Japanese tea at the recent Coffee & Tea Show here in Toronto and one of the short scenes that struck me was of a corner tea store (booth, really) in an urban residential area offering it's seasonal fresh tea for tasting by the local residents as if it was apples or lettuce.  Shoppers came and sampled the teas and then bought their weekly tea.  Fresh tea comes in almost every week.  A far, far cry from our situation here in North America where my sense is that most tea is container-shipped by sea which takes several months, then it's often stored before being sold to our local tea merchants where it may sit for many months before it's all sold.  Sigh.

However, my lovely local tea shop Tealish has recently stocked several late spring 2010 teas and I've just discovered that my local Japanese grocery store, Sanko, imports fresh senchas, gyokuro, hojichas, etc (more on that later!) for their discerning Japanese clientel and anyone else lucky enough to stumble upon it.  Like me, two weeks ago.

I decided to taste the 2010 Berubeula Ceylon next to another from Tealish called Golden Garden Ceylon (reviewed here on August 26/10) because sometimes contrasting the taste and texture helps focus the tastebuds. 

Wet and dry leaves of the Golden Garden Ceylon on the left
and the 2010 Berubeula Estate Ceylon on the right.

Berubeula  is in the Galle district of Sri Lanka and being generally under 2000 feet in altitude their teas are classified as low-grown Ceylons.

The dry leaves are long and wiry and a dark charcoal grey -- there is a handsome evenness to the look of this tea. After brewing in just-off-the-boil water for two minutes, the large broken leaves have opened and show some green in the coppery brown.  Oddly, there are a lot of what I think are leaf centre-ribs ie: no leaf on it -- they're definitely not buds and there was little gold or silver tipping in the dry leaves.  The leaves' aroma is full and sweet off the top, like a sweet bun baking really -- with a very light vegetal note, perhaps a hint of dark, dark chocolate and finally a nice light tang of bitter sharpness in the nose to finish it off.

The liquor is a bright ruby-red-brown and, surprisingly, light to medium bodied and smooth in the mouth.  Being low-grown I was expecting a really full bodied, rather rough tea but that is definitely not the case.  The flavours hinted by the leaves come through and the cup gives a lovely, smooth, full, balanced sweet-bitter cup with lots of flavour.  Milk smoothes the edges (although there were no really sharp edges here) and sweetens it slightly.  If you're someone who finds the classic, high-grown Ceylon's zingy lemon briskness too harsh this could be for you -- this is a really nice, smooth Ceylon that, being fresh, delivers great flavour.

In August when I originally tasted this tea I couldn't find any information on the Estate and it's altitude, etc.  However I came across a list of the Sri Lankan tea estates with links to satellite views of each one, and noticed a number have names in Sinhalese.  Aha!  In the Sinhalese language Ran means golden and Watte means garden and when I googled that I finally found some information on the estate.  It's in the Uva district which has both medium and high-grown tea estates as it's altitude ranges from 2000 to 3500 feet so this tea could be either.

This Ceylon is very different from the Berubeula, starting with the look of the tea:  the dry leaves are small and fine and quite black with an occasional gold tip.  Used just-off-the-boil water for a two-minute steep and the wet leaves are a uniform dark copper brown, showing no green and the liquor is clear, bright reddish brown.  The wet leaves give off a strong, slightly smokey, dark earthy aroma with a nice bitter tangy follow through and the liquor has, no surprise with those aromas I suppose, a pretty full body without being very brisk.   

Unfortunately this is the moment that I realise that my nose and taste buds must still not up to 100% since the cold/cough of weeks ago!  It's not possible (is it?) that this tea has dried out and faded in flavour that much since August 26 when I last did a tasting.....?  (I store my tea in glass jars with an airtight rubber seal.  The glass is clear but they're kept in a dark drawer.)  Ah life.

Well despite, and perhaps because of, my apparently still-compromised taste buds, the Golden Garden is a very nice afternoon tea but I will choose the Berubeula, at least for a few more months, for the extra breadth of flavour and aroma, as well as its smoothness.  It's not offering the revelation of flavour that I got from the ultra-fresh Kenyan tea (which will forever stand as a benchmark for me), but it is offering more, and would be even more rewarding on fully functioning taste buds. ;)

Friday, October 15, 2010


It's taken three and half weeks to shake this cold but I think my taste buddys are finally back in order -- so I'm diving in to some tastings today. 

I've been looking forward to trying the sample of Thousand Arrows oolong I got at the Coffee and Tea show in late September and decided it would be helpful for my ongoing oolong education to taste it against some others.  Remembering my lesson from mister Marsland, you see.  So I hauled out two other oolongs I had in the drawer, both from my local tea shop,Tealish -- a Formosa Tung Ting Jade and a Ti Kuan Yin.  Interestingly there is no origin noted on the latter, although it's traditionally a Chinese oolong.  Since I tasted a steamed sencha-type tea that turned out to be from Bolivia last spring though (courtesy of that same Mr. Marsland), I realise this Ti Kuan Yin could be from anywhere.

This sample came from Shanti Tea Importers based in Ottawa which deals in fair trade, organic and biodynamic teas.  Thousand Arrows is an oolong from the organic and fair trade Idulgashinna Tea Estate in Sri Lanka's Uva region -- speaking of everyone everywhere making everything these days, no?  The estate is owned by Stassen, "one of Sri Lanka's premier corporate conglomerates, with diverse business interests in exports/imports, manufacturing, banking, hotels, plantations and insurance sectors" and its elevation ranges from 1000 to 1900 metres (3200 to 6200 feet), so the tea is considered 'high grown.'   (More info on the major Sri Lankan tea regions.)  Stassen also owns the organic Venture Tea Garden, whose black tea I tasted earlier.

Thousand Arrows oolong sample in a nice
single-serving airtight package.

This is an incredibly handsome, hand-made-looking tea with its large rolled spears of leaves.  The spears are beautifully uniform in size and twist and very satisfying to hold in your hand too, I must say.  Under the magnifying loop the twist and the glimpses of leaf-bud fuzz is gorgeous, and when I shake out the pack there is lots of fuzz (ie: pekoe) on the inside of the packet and fluttering into the teamaker.  
Thousand Arrows oolong -- the leaves danced
during their infusion.  Typical of needle-shaped tea,
I think.

The sample's directions suggest 1tsp of leaf per cup (I'll guess that's 5 oz), bringing water to a boil but letting it cool for a minute before steeping the tea 2 to 3 minutes, with re-infusions.  I'm not sure how you'd measure a teaspoon of this stuff without breaking up those gorgeous spears though so I opt to use the whole sample pack, about 3 grams and about 6.5 ozs of water.  I don't let the water cool for a full minute since these are tightly rolled leaves and will need some good heat in the water to unfurl them, at least on their first infusion. 

I use 88C at 1 minute and 10 seconds steep and get a strong golden colour liquor.  The liquor's colour and the wet leaves's colour indicate this is a medium oxidised oolong.  The fairly large-sized wet leaves, partially or fully unfurled show a uniform, classic bud and two leaves pluck -- really lovely to look at.  The leaves are a soft coppery brown mixed with a bright green.  As I sit tasting and writing I notice that a lot of the green is changing to brown as they oxidise while sitting.

Thousand Arrows wet leaf showing a classic two-leaves-
and-a-bud pluck, next to the tightly twisted spear of dry tea.

The leaves give off a light toasty sweet and vegetal scent with floral and sweet applesauce notes.  The liquor has a refreshing light to medium body with very light astringency and its flavour follows the leaf's aroma.  It has a pleasing sweet fruity taste-note of applesauce, with a toasty finish.  On the second steep there is a more forward flavour note of sweet dried fruit, like raisin.  I left this on the counter while I prepared the other two teas and when the liquor had cooled, came back and finished it up.  There's a surprising hint of fresh, tart, berry flavour like a bowl of raspberries.

I'm not sure this has the distance that we've come to expect from great Chinese oolongs, but there's still plenty happening in this beautiful looking oolong.   In fact, I think I'd get more of this tea just for the pleasure of its look and feel.

TUNG TING JADE  (aka Dong Ding) and TI KWAN YIN (aka Tieguanyin)
If I don't see these together I can easily mistake one for the other, since both are traditionally folded-leaf or ball-rolled and have a a similar colouring of blue-green with blotches of dark charcoal grey and a spit-shiny sheen.  However, I find that when seen together the Tung Ting Jade is usually smaller, and has more variance in piece size and fewer stems.  You can see this in the photo below, especially if you click to enlarge it.  On infusion, the liquor of the Tung Ting is slightly more golden, and its leaves have a touch more copper colour, both indicators of more oxidation.  Looking at the infused leaves of both teas though, they are very close in oxidation level which is quite modest -- according to the high amount of green in the leaf.

Wet and dry leaves of Ti Kwan Yin oolong on left and
Tung Ting Jade oolong on the right.

Do you notice the torn edges of the Ti Kwan Yin in the photo above?  If I understand my colleague Tao correctly, he tells me that in order to achieve the look of a more lightly oxidised oolong some producers in China have workers tear the copper-coloured edges from the leaves.  (!!)  I don't know if that's the case here, nor if I understood the story correctly - it seems so labour intensive.

Both oolongs were infused for 2 minutes 10 seconds in 90C water.  They are definitely more lightly oxidised than the Thousand Arrows, and that's evident when comparing their lighter liquor colour as well as the greener wet leaves. 

In flavour and scent they both have more vegetal notes than the Thousand Arrows, and are generally more floral and sweet scented, with little astringency and light to medium body.

Of the two, the Ti Kwan Yin has a stronger vegetal flavour with more of the toasty notes in its taste and has abit more body .  The flavour sticks to your tongue more.  When it cools some lovely peach notes comes through.  I often find that flavour notes come through more strongly on cooler liquor -- odd.  In fact this cool, room temperature tea is very refreshing and pleasant.

In the Tung Ting the swoosh of vegetal and lighter toasty notes are followed by a lovely sweet spicy note of cinnamon.  On the second steeping the spicy sweet note became more vanilla and floral -- is that what orchid smells like?  The Tea Drinker's Handbook talks of this tea having a lightly oily, rounded mouth-feel but I'm not getting that from this tea.

3 oolongs: Ti Kwan Yin, Tung Ting and Thousand Arrows.
I'm so glad I decided to taste these three together.  They provided a great illustration of the general differences in oolongs based on their oxidation levels.  Oolongs, by definition, are partially oxidised, varying from roughly 20% to 80% oxidation.   Generally you'll find that the lightly oxidised leaves develop intense floral and vegetal notes, while the heavily oxidised have more fruity, woody almost spicy notes.  Even though the Thousand Arrows is not heavily-heavily oxidised, it did exhibit more fruit notes than the Tung Ting Jade and Ti Kwan Yin.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


It's been too long since I posted here but I've got a dastard cold, a slo-mo beast that spent days as a tickle in the back of my throat, taunting me, lulling me into the belief it would blow over.  It's been almost two weeks now and it's been toying with my chest for several days.  All to say -- taste buds have been compramised.

I went to the Coffee and Tea Show on September 26th and have some tea samples I'm looking forward to tasting, and also have three different maple syrups I'm dying to try next to each other too.  But must wait until I stop with the crumpled tissues.  

So I'm making roasted beet soup this rainy, grey morning, along with all the slighted wilted veggies in the bottom of my fridge.  I think it smells pretty good.

Saut├ęd a few onions then added chopped
beet greens, and a lone leek.

Almost forgot the tomatos that had gone slightly soft.

Added water, salt, pepper and then a
few fresh leaves of sage (from a bouquet
I created for the desk the other day) and
some fennel seeds. Why not.

Simmered down by about 1/3, then put through the blender.
Crumbled abit of feta on top.  From what I can taste I have
to say it's pretty good -- the hint of fennel is nice.  At least it
all tastes good with these cold-challenged taste buds.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

HOUJICHA green tea..

I first encountered this distinctive and unusual Japanese green tea last winter and decided to revisit it today since I was looking for something low in caffeine.  Almost all green teas in Japan are steamed to prevent oxidation (whereas in China currently the majority are fired -- pan frying, toasting in baskets, oven baking, etc).  Houjicha (sometimes spelled Hojicha) is both steamed and toasted, which give its dry leaves their warm brown fluffy look, its liquor the golden-brown colour and its distinctive strong toasty aroma and flavour.  The first three processing steps of Houjicha are the same as for Sencha: 1) Steaming, 2) Drying and Crumpling, and 3) Shaping. Then the tea goes through one special additional step: 4) Roasting in high heat.  The process was invented in Kyoto, Japan in the 1920s.

Warm brown lightly  fluffy dry leaves of
Houjicha from Tealish

Houjicha is usually made from bancha, a term to describe late harvest tea.  As such it's composed of larger, more mature leaves and, if from when the bushes are being trimmed to level them down, will include bits and pieces of twigs too.  Keep in mind that the tea bushes are machine harvested in Japan, not hand-plucked.  In general, bancha's considered a 'common' class or lower quality tea.  I really admire that there's a "use everything" approach to the tea plant though.  As the delicious osso bucco of Italy uses the tough leg hocks of the lamb to make a delicous meal, so tea growers have traditionally made use of every part of the plant and developed ways to process the material to make a delicious beverage.

There are a number of variables with houjicha -- some is made from grades of tea besides bancha, and it can be lightly or heavily toasted, creating different flavour profiles. In fact if you start looking around the Japanese tea sites (only those in english, in my case), you can see that hojicha is made from the leaves/twigs of all kinds of tea -- sencha, bancha, even gyokuro.  Which, of course, makes sense since all tea plants will have older leaves and twigs that are a shame to waste.

Houjicha is touted by the resource books I have and on many websites as being very low in caffeine which is usually accredited to the roasting process.  No scientific data is provided to support that though.  I'm a girl that likes such things.

We know that the further away you get from the leaf bud, and the later in the season it is harvested that there will be less caffeine in the leaves or plant parts.  This is because everything is concentrated in the youngest buds and the plant has more energy and focus in the spring.  All to say, I find the explanation on Tea Laden to make sense -- "Since the leaves used to make Bancha are coarser and contain some stalks and stems the resulting tea generally contains less caffeine or tannin then the finer grades of Japanese tea. Also the cup tends to be somewhat milder." 

Whether you prefer the science or the "roasting" story, I can report that I've not got much of a buzz after having two cups on each of the past two mornings.

In brewing the tea I took the advice of  the Japanese site Hibiki-an and brewed 7 grams of leaves in 7 oz of boiling water for 30 seconds.  For the second infusion I did 45 seconds.

I have to say that the dry leaves of this tea which I bought at Tealish last spring have a noticeable musty aroma followed closely by toasty and roasty.  It's the only Houjicha I've had so I don't know if this is usual.

Wet Leaves:
There's a rush of sweet vegetal that's gone in a nano second and then the full strong aroma of roasted coffee!  On a whiff it gives me the warm rich nutty aroma of a good dense wholewheat bread, followed by a bit of bitterness, mustyness, a truly distinct, odd, boiled-forest-twigs aroma.  I find myself vascillating between concentrating on breaking down and identifying the aromas and thinking good grief who the heck thought this was a good idea.

Houjicha -- the first, weaker brew.  Golden brown and
less red than most fully oxidised 'red' tea.

Light mouthfeel, no tartness, a big toasty, strong flavour, with a slight marine hint that's quite startling if you've never had this tea before.  There is an after-flavour of light bitterness which gives this some backbone.  It's a bitterness that doesn't taste bitter, which I know doesn't make sense.

On the second morning I tried this with milk, as if it was a black tea which rounded and sweetened the flavour profile but doesn't really enhance the tea -- wouldn't recommend it.  Hmmm, I can see how a committed coffee drinker might find this tasting like watery coffee grounds rather than a big-flavoured tea.  It has a somewhat similar taste profile without the big body of coffee.

I really want to love this low-caffeine tea but I don't -- but interestingly, when I gave my sister-in-law (not a big tea drinker) two other green teas and the hojicha to try she immediately liked the hojicha best.  A wonderful example of how tea tasting is such a personal journey.

Houjicha has a distinct, strong toasty flavour that is truly intriguing and unusual  -- so I know I'll be back to try it again.  After 3:30 or 4pm I'm always on the hunt for a delicious hot, low-caffeine beverage.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Two Ceylons from Tealish that I haven't tried yet.  Nice way to start the day. I've been enjoying Ceylon for breakfast all summer and really appreciating that thirst-quenching, light lemony briskness they're famous for.

There are six principal tea growing regions in Sri Lanka and the tea is generally classified as low grown (below 2000 feet), mid grown (2000 to to 4000 feet) or high grown (4000 feet and up).  The six districts are Nuwara Eliya (the highest, a plateau at 6000 feet), Dimbula (3500 to 5000 feet), Uva (3000 to 5000 feet)), Kandy (considered low-grown, around 1500 to 2000 feet), and the low-grown districts of Galle and Ratnapura (less than 2000 feet).  One of the reasons to mention all this is that elevation has alot to do with the taste of a tea, with most saying the higher the elevation the better the tea.  In general, I've found the higher elevation teas are lighter bodied and the lower elevation ones, fuller bodied with bolder flavours.  Think high-grown Ceylon versus a typical Assam.  Of course, in the end "best" is all in your taste buds.

Both these teas were brewed just off the boil for 2 minutes.

I've ended up spending way too much time tripping about the internet searching for info about this estate -- specifically what altitude the tea is grown at.  So far the Serendipitea site says their Venture Estate tea is grown in the Nuwara Eliya district (which is the highest altitude area), the Leafspa site says their Venture Estate FBOP comes from the Uva district and the Sereni-tea site says their Venture Estate OP1 is from Dimbula district.  (The Tea Drinker's Handbook says all three of these districts produce what is know as "highgrown" tea.)   However, in this 2007 article on Sri Lankan organic tea gardens, including local sentiment both pro and con, I finally found that Venture Estate is situated in the Bogowanthalawa Valley in Sri Lanka's Dimbulla region at an elevation of 1,100 to 1,300 meters (3600 to 4300 feet) which would be considered high grown.  Phew.

The reason I was curious about the elevation is because the liquor of this tea and it's flavour and mouth feel suggest it's highgrown, particularly in relation to the Golden Garden Estate tea.

But starting with the dry leaves -- they are a very dark grey/black with the chunky appearance of a fairly large-sized broken leaf done in a medium twist.  An attractive, even dry leaf as you can see in the photo below, and very different from the other Ceylon I'm trying this morning.

Venture on the left is lighter and more orangey
than the Golden Garden.  Both look great in the
morning sun.

The liquor colour is a beautiful, bright orangey-red -- compared to the deeper slightly browny-red of the Golden Garden.  In the mouth it's a refreshing, light-bodied, medium brisk tea that leaves a clean, light lemony tang at the back of tongue.  The wet leaves give me a light honey, warm woody scent.  Overall, for me, this tea is more about the mouth-feel than any single strong flavour.  Although when I took the last sip from the now-cooled and milked (I always add milk to finish the cup) tea I got a wonderful, distinct lime marmalade hit.

I can't find any info on the net about this tea estate except from seller's website which just aren't very informative.  I mean, they have info, bless them, just not the kind of details that I want -- elevation, exact location, ownership, etc etc.  I'm a nosey girl.

(Note: later discovered the estate's in the Uva district, 2000 to 3500 feet ie: low to mid grown)

Venture Estate wet and dry on left, Golden Garden on right. 
Not sure if you can see in this photo but the Venture's wet
leaves are a maroonish colour, like seaweed.

So -- on to the tea itself, then.  The tea leaves are very small, fine, thin and wiry speckled with a few silvery-gold tips.  Very distinct from the much larger-leafed, chunky looking Venture Estate.  As I mentioned above the liquor is a rich amber-red.  The wet leaves are full of soft flavour notes: spicy, nutty (almond?), cinnamon, orange peel.  On the mouth its a big, full-bodied tea giving my tongue a furry feel and it has a tang to it, abit of bitterness.  This tea is very flavourful.  Given it's full-bodied-ness I'm wondering if this is a low-grown tea.  Hmmm.

I think I prefer the Venture for my morning tea -- I really do like that light lemony pucker first thing in the morning.  And will reserve the Golden Garden for my afternoon tea when I'm looking for good full flavour to tickle my taste buds.

I can't believe it.  It's 2:45pm and I started brewing the tea and these notes at 9:30 this morning.  You see?  That's why this blog will never live up to its name.  There's simply not enough hours in the day to write a tasting a day and keep up with the gardening.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea dry leaves.

This is an extraordinary looking green tea from China -- big, long leaves pressed flat and having the imprint of either paper or cotton on its leaves.  The dried leaves are whole and 2" and 3" in length -- unusally large for tea.  Another unusual aspect of this tea is that it's both pan fired and basket-fired.  Besides its toasty flavour, the leaves' crispy flatness hints that it's pan-fired -- pressed into a wok-like hot pan. But The Story of Tea explains further that after the pan-firing, the leaves are scattered on a sheet of rice paper, then another sheet is laid on top and the leaves are blotted to remove moisture without removing their aromatics.  This is what's responsible for the distinctive cross-hatched pattern on the dried leaves and, of course, ultimately why the tea is flat.  After this the tea is finished by basket firing.

Tai Ping Hou Kui.  You can still see the distinctive rice-
paper  imprint on the wet leaves.  (Click to enlarge.)

This tea is from Tao's tea house, and the package says its origin is Hou Keng Village in AnHui province (China).  It's considered by some to be one of the "Ten Famous Teas" -- although there is no definitive list of which ten they are*.

"Tai Ping" is a region in the south of the Huang Shan mountains in Anhui province, and "hou kui", according to Babelcarp, means "monkey king."  Some legends say that, due to the area's steep slopes, the locals trained monkeys to pick the tea, but I find that abit of stretch.  According to other googled sites the word "Hou refers to Hou Keng Village where the highest grade of this tea is made and the word Kui refers to a tea-grower Wang Kui-cheng who made this tea by improving the processing of a local green tea Jian Cha around 1900."   The Tea Drinker's Handbook notes that "according to another legend, it is the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s, a tragic epidsode in Chinese history that ends in a bloody repression, which is linked with its name," and further notes that a "special feature of Tai Ping Hou Kui is revealed during the infusion when the veins of the leaves turn bright red -- some claim in tribute to the blood spilled by the rebels during the revolt."

I like to imagine that both might be true.  For usually there are many 'true' histories of a thing.  We come to blend and bend certain stories and events to reflect various people's emotional memory of the time as much as the 'facts' of a time.

I did two steepings.  Both in about 5 ozs of 75C to 80C water for two minutes but the first one had 6 or 7 leaves, which is what I thought I remembered Tao suggesting, and the second had the standard 2.5 grams of leaves.

Tai Ping Hou Kui wet leaves from the 2nd steep  -- large,
 mid-green leaves, showing, particularly on the left sample,
a pluck of a tiny bud, a new young  leaf and two other leaves.

The dry leaves have a surprisingly strong sweet and fresh aroma.  Almost floral.

On the first brew the wet leaves give light aroma of beans and a sweet vegetal scent, along with a light toasty scent of buttery popcorn.  The latter is the smell of the firing and identifies it as a fired not steamed green tea.  I don't see a red leaf vein though.

The liquor is a very pale, elegant blue-green with a light round buttery mouth feel. 

Overall I find this too watery and delicate for my taste-buds -- basically under-brewed, so decide to do a second one with the standard 2.5 grams of tea leaves to 5 oz of water.

This brings forward the toasty buttery aromas of the leaves and flavour to the tongue, along with the usual green-tea vegetal notes and a rich hint of toasted pecans.  This heavier, standard brew also brings a nice light briskness and a bit of sharp bitterness which is actually a nice balance to the quite full round, satiny (oily) mouth feel.  I could perhaps do with one notch lower on the bitterness but it brings a refreshing quality too, and the rest of the cup goes down with no problem.

This tea is so nice I'm trying it again the next morning -- 2.5 grams in 5 oz water at 80C.  This time I don't let it slip over the two-minute steep at all, which takes the slight bitterness down a note.  (It's amazing how little it takes to tip a tea over to bitterness.) The cup is wonderfully round and buttery with light toasty notes followed by the vegetal and the nutty pecan.  A second brew (at two minutes) is less round on the mouth, with abit less of the pecan and almost a mint-tea feel on the tongue as the last sip goes down.  A third brew (in cooler water since the water in my thermos has cooled to 65C) done at 3 minutes gives me another lovely cup of tea -- it doesn't seem to have diminished on the mouth feel by much, a little lighter on the flavour profiles and, surprisingly, the sweet floral note is more dominant. 

As I sit here sewing cosies this afternoon this tea just keeps on giving.  It deserves its moniker as one of the Ten Famous Teas -- rich-tasting and distinctive.

* Before the fall of the Imperial Court in China the Famous Teas were called Imperial Tribute Teas and were apparently for the exclusive pleasure of the emperor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


For a change of pace, a white wine for the tasting today.  2007 is purported to be an extraordinary, stellar vintage for Ontario wines.  I remember in the fall of 2007 everyone was a-twitter about the long hot, dry summer followed by decent rains in the fall and how this should all add up to a stand-out vintage.  I'd never heard such a kafuffle about an Ontario vintage and was not sure if it was a sign of the maturity of the wine industry here, the result of a successful marketing campaign (am I being too cynical?) or simply the excited celebration of a rare harvest.

I confess I don't drink alot of Canadian wines and tend to steer clear of chardonnay's because of their tendency to over-oaking but saw this 2007 on the shelf today and thought what the heck.

On pulling the cork there was a rush of sweet summer fruit -- lovely on this late August evening.  In the glass a nice light tartness, a whiff of sulphur on the first few sips, faint toffee notes, a light buttery roundness.  For a girl that is drawn to the steely Sauvignon Blancs I actually found this very pleasant.  The oak and vanillans were not overpowering so there was a delicous freshness and light acidity which made it very drinkable to my taste.  My drinking companion contributed "tart" to the tasting list.  Yes, that's the acidity.

Just for comparison, here's what the LCBO taster had to say:  The nose provides aromas of baked apple and honey with hints of butterscotch and smoke ... There is also a beautiful interplay of apple, peach, butter and baking spices. The acidity is wonderful, and cries out for this wine to be served next to a rich creamy pasta dish ... excellent Chardonnay from the outstanding 2007 Niagara vintage ... (Chris Saunders,, Oct. 9, 2009)

The wine was enjoyed this evening with two cheeses from the exceptional Montefort Dairy.

I'd definitely have this Lailey Chardonnay again. Wonderful to discover a local wine that doesn't have a predominate note of its additives. Or whatever that is that just tastes like process.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Golden Monkey on left, Organic Golden Yunnan on right
with fewer golden leaf buds and a chunkier leaf -- click for a
closer look at the lovely furry golden peko on the buds.

I'm taking another run at the organic Golden Yunnan from Tao's Tea House, and comparing/contrasting to the Golden Monkey, also from Tao's.  I should admit off the top that Tao's Golden Monkey is currently my favourite tea ever.  Has been for the past 4 or 5 months.  Mmmm-mmmm good.  Yes, it's on the pricey side.  And, um, yes, I don't tend to offer it to visitors unless I think they'll appreciate its richness.

Both have lovely golden tips in them.  Both are from China albeit different provinces.  I got the Golden Yunnan thinking it might be in the same taste corner and seduce me as well.  It didn't, although it's not a bad tea.

TEA NAME: Organic Golden Yunnan
The Yunnan province is down in the south-west of China, and is considered one of the birthplaces of tea.   Its cultivation there started some 2000 years ago, but apparently it was only in the 1940s that black tea production began.   Yunnan black tea is generally called Dian Hong in China, which translates literally as 'Yunnan Red.'  Dian being another name for Yunnan Province, named after the Bronze Age Dian Kingdom, and red referring to the colour of the tea liquor.  We remember, bien sur, that in China what we call black tea is called red tea.  According to the Heiss's comprehensive book, The Story of Tea, historically Yunnan black tea has been grown from an indigenous variety of large, broad-leaf tea bush known locally as dayeh and classified by botanists as a subvariety of Camellia sinensis var. assamica.  I've no idea if that is the case with this tea but I did wonder, given its taste profile.  The Heiss's also note that Yunnan Buds of Gold and Yunnan Golden Needles are both among the highest grades of Yunnan black tea and "yield an exquisite creamy and malty, sweet-liquoring tea with almost no bite."  That certainly wasn't my experience with this Golden Yunnan and sounds much more like the Golden Monkey.  Hmmmm.

WATER TEMPERATURE:  Just off the boil
STEEPING TIME:  2 minutes, 10 seconds

Per the photo above, the Golden Yunnan on the right is chunkier-looking, and is a dark charcoal grey with bright silvery-gold threads and small broken bits mixed in.  Under the magnifying loup, the threads are revealed as gorgeous furry pekoe on unopened leaf buds with the darker (though still showing pekoe) slightly twisted young leaves.

Organic Golden Yunnan wet leaves.

Small broken leaves of a very deep, coppery-brown (dark penny colour) with occasional dark green evident.

Organic Golden Yunnan brewed tea.

Very deep red-brown with a green ring around the rim.
Hmmm.  Bit of a bitter after taste -- I think this is a tad overbrewed.  But still a sweet, caramel flavour coming through, and behind that the slightly steely bitterness.  Nice round mouth feel -- bit of fur on the tongue.  Medium to soft briskness -- ie: refreshing in the mouth, and can feel water being formed in the lower jaw bone area indicating lack of astringency.  When I add a bit of milk the bitterness is mostly overwhelmed -- and it is now a nice balance to the sweeter front notes.
Curious about the bitterness I did a second brew with 2 grams of leaves instead of 2.5 grams.  It's still got a bite and the big mouth feel.  Could this be due to it being c.s. v. assamica...?

TEA NAME: Golden Monkey (Zheng He (or Zhenghe) Hong Gong Fu) from Fujian Province
In trying to track down what the heck the tea's Chinese name means I stumbled on the Babelcarp site which is fab.  All I previously knew was that "hong" means red.  But Babelcarp tells me that zheng he is the name of the place that is the centre of bai cha (literally white tea) production in Fujian province, or the variety of red tea produced from a cultivar usually made into white tea.  It also tells me that Gong fu literally means work or effort, and can signify either the gong fu tea service or red tea --  I find this confusing.  Does this mean there are other Fujian red teas with this descriptive or what?  From this translation device it appears that zhenghe hong gong fu literally translates as "the variety of red tea produced from a cultivar usually made into white tea + red + well made red tea"....?  Elsewhere on a tea purveyor's site it was explained that the english name, Golden Monkey, comes from its unique appearance: the leaves resemble monkey claws.  Not sure I see that but then I've not come across many monkeys.

WATER TEMPERATURE: Just off the boil
STEEPING TIME:  2 minutes 10 seconds

Per the photo above, I identify this tea by its long (3/4"), slightly grey-black long wiry pieces with loads of golden threads and light crinkly-ness -- it looks and feels very airy.  Under the magnifying loup this is revealed to be all furry pekoed long thin leaf buds.  It's such a special, funny sight you must try it some time.  Or click on the photo above.

Golden Monkey wet leaves.

Beautiful long buds and bud + leaf in a slightly grayed coppery brown.  (This photo is under halogen light and is redder and yellower than to my eye.) They kind of look like slippery little eels, don't they? Or little wet seals. (Okay, the latter might be stretching it.)

Toffee. Peppery.  Faint sweet apricot note. Lower down there's a light musky-musty note.

Golden Monkey brewed liquor --  much more orangey
than the Golden Yunnan.

The colour is a medium, bright orangey-brown.  I've noticed the brew also tends to have a bubbly, slight scum which on closer examination seems to be a result of the leaf bud's hairy pekoe.

Mmmmm. Sweet toffee, with some apricot, light soft bitterness to balance out the flavour.  Nice lush medium body in the mouth -- a light velvety furring, and not at all brisk.  When I add milk -- which is the way I tend to drink black tea -- it smoothes out the furring abit, and is still a wonderful, addictive brew.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


For all three teas
STEEPING TIME: 2 minutes

This started as a tasting I did for myself while studying intensively in the weeks leading up to the exam last spring.  I've been thnking in the past few days that tastings of only one thing are extremely difficult.  It's in the contrasts between things that one can often find the strongest definition -- more frequent "ah ha" moments. When our class did its first sample tasting at Spire Tea Sean's most lasting piece of advice for me was, when in doubt, go back and taste again against another tea.  Especially for aspects such as briskness and mouthfeel.

And speaking of briskness, the Darjeelings can often be quite brisk, especially the year's first flush. 

Today's tasting is of three Darjeelings from Tealish -- one first flush and two second flushes.  I presume they are 2009's or possible 2008's.

I have to say this was not a particularly successful brew.  Two out of three were almost undrinkably bitter.  I was reading the incredibly useful "The Tea Drinker's Handbook" this afternoon and noted they recommend long steeps (3 to 5 minutes) at 85C for the five Darjeelings they describe.  Hmmm.  Cooler water temp and longer steep than I've done before.   The long steep made me nervous, since Darjeelings are known for "bolting" to great bitterness after 2 minutes, so I opted to try the cooler temperature water but stick to a strict two minutes for each tea.

From left: Gopaldhara first flush, Avongrove 2nd flush
and a Puttabong 2nd flush. The snap's over exposed but
you can see the difference in amount of green in the leaves.

#1.  DARJEELING Gopaldhara Estate FTGFOP1 - 1st Flush
Remember those letters?  Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade) 1.  A grading system developed in India and used in Ceylon as well.

According to the label, the Gopaldhara Estate is at an elevation of 7400 feet and is one of the three highest tea gardens in the world.  The Gopaldhara Estate website says they've gardens ranging from 3000 to 7000 feet but does agree it's "one of the highest tea estates in Darjeeling."

- faintly sweet with vegetal notes and then a green spring whiff

The liquor is a fairly strong yellowy orange  -- darker than I would have expected of a classic first flush.
The liquor is surprisingly sweet like a pasta, quite brisk with a pleasing furry feel.  It has a light, bitter tang at the end for balance.

Gopaldhara 1st flush, Avongrove 2nd flush organic, Puttabong 2nd flush.

#2. DARJEELING Avongrove Estate - 2nd Flush Organic
Interestingly the website for Avongrove Estate, an organic estate, notes that it was bought in 2008 by a company called KPL International, an international business company "marketing chemicals, paper, polymers, and allied products."  I don't know what to make of that.

- a faintly toasty, deep sweetly fruity aroma with an end note of cat piss.  Yes, cat spray.  I have cats and my garden is regularly visited by male cats spritzing their territorial markings hither and thither so am quite familiar with it.

The colour is a deep marmalade orangey-brown.  Typical I've found of over-brewed 2nd flush Darjeelings.
The taste is profoundly bitter.  Too bitter for me and I don't understand why it's so after only 2 minutes with a cool infustion. 
#3. DARJEELING Puttabong Estate - 2nd Flush
The Puttabong Estate (aka Tukvar Estate) is apparently the oldest tea estate in Darjeeling and has gardens frm 1500 to 6500 feet elevation. It's owned by Jay Shree Tea & Industries Ltd in India which also owns estates in Assam, as well as a real estate division and plant producing superphosphate and sulphuric acid.  Interesting mix.  I guess.
A brief whiff of toasty before a snootful of a typical black tea note of robust warm hay barn.

Unfortunately this too is quite bitter although it's softer and less brisk.  There's a little bit of that pasta flavour but with more tang and much less sweet.  Overall this is just too one note-bitter to be interesting.  My fault for overbrewing, I'm sure.

As an afterward -- since it's 4 o'clock and I need a tea fix, I added milk to both the 2nd flushes and it made this one was reasonably drinkable.  The milk sweetened it just enough to off-set the bitterness and make it palatable.