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.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"ASSAM DELIGHT" from My Tea Brew

This is a tea from my fellow tea sommelier, Donna Sikora, who, in her own words focuses on "tootie fruitie" tea blends.  She is aiming to start a tea store and as part of her research has taken a booth at the Port Credit Farmer's Market for the summer to test out the tea blends, the public interest, the types of questions they ask, etc.  Myself I'm not fond of blends, particularly fruity blends (not in shampoos, not in teas) since I find such a breadth of flavours in tea all on its own.  But my own local tea store, Tealish, also tells me their blends do better than the straight teas.  Go figure.

TEA NAME: "Assam Delight"

The package recommends a teaspoon in 7 or 8 ozs of just off the boil water for 2 to 3 minutes but I've opted for cooler water and a short steep since it is mostly green tea. 

Click to enlarge

Small folded balls of dark green tea leaves, a few very thin, black wiry bits and lightly sprinkled with 1/2" pieces of yellow lemon grass.  From the folded leaves this is a baked green tea in the Chinese style of production, as opposed to a steamed green in the Japanese style.

I assumed the black wiry bits were a black Assam tea -- given the tea's name but this is not so.  It's an entirely green tea blend. 

Click image to enlarge.

Appearance: The wet leaves have partially unfurled and are a lovely yellowy-moss green. When I uncurl the leaves all the way they are small and fairly yellow. The lemon grass stems are now pale straw colour.  Since all the wet leaves are green it's clear there is no Assam black tea in this mix at all!

Aroma: There's a very strong lemony aroma -- it's so intense I'm guessing scented oil was added to the tea, either to its constituent parts or by Donna.  There's also the soft grassy undertone of the green tea which is very pleasant. 
Slightly cloudy, beautiful yellowy green.

Appearance: - a fairly rich yellowy-green liquor which is slightly cloudy due, I presume, in part to the lemon grass.

Flavour, etc:  This is quite pleasant and refreshing although I do find it a bit heavy on the lemon flavour -- but you probably guessed I'd find that, didn't you.  Mmm -- it's a very hot muggy summer day here today and this is going down well.  In fact, I suspect that when left to cool it will be a really nice summer afternoon iced tea.  It has a nice mouth feel - smooth and soft, (how do I say "oily" in a good way?)  Light to medium viscosity -- not too thin nor too big and thick.  The aroma in the cup still has lemon as the top note, but it's much softer than on the dry leaves when you open the packet.

Donna with Suzanne (in hat) at her "My Tea Brew" stand
at the Port Credit Farmer's Market today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

KEEMUN from Tealish

This is from my local tea store, Tealish, and therefore may be from the ubiquitous Canadian tea distributor, Metropolitan.

TEA NAME:  Keemun (aka Qimen, etc)
Keemun is a well kown Chinese black tea made in the small town of Qimen in the Anhui province.  It's often cited as the original basis for English Breakfast tea.  Its taste is big and faintly smokey (as most Chinese teas are) with a medium briskness and full body -- considered perfect for a get-you-going-in-the-morning tea for westerners.  Which it is.

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

Keemun dry leaves.

Dark charcoal grey colour, whole and broken small leaves (along with a few leaf twigs) which, in close-up, have an oily sheen and are lightly twisted.  Under the film loup all is slightly dusted with light grey.  Age?  Process?

Keemun wet leaves.

Warm, classic "black tea" aroma with hints of dark chocolate, and sweet apricot.

The wet leaves are coppery with some dark green, almost exclusively small broken leaves and you can still see a few little leaf twigs.

Keemun liquor.

I overbrewed this slightly as it has a slight bitterness in the fore, and aibt strong on the metallic.  Lost any subtlety.  However, I'm still drinking it up.

The colour is a lovely rich, amber-red and is fairly bright and clear here on first pouring.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


This is my first entry -- and just a trial run -- and only the 3rd day after a massive evening of smoking which pretty much completely deadened my taste buds. I'm also starting here with the second infusion on these leaves and I overbrewed the damn things! I was up on the ladder taking down the curtain panel I'm working on when the timer went off so instead of 3 minutes it brewed about 3 mins 30 to 3 mins 45.

Remember: you can click on any of the photos to have a closer look.
WATER TEMPERATURE:  Just off the boil
STEEPING TIME:  2 minutes
Organic Golden Yunnan dry leaves.

DRY LEAF: A beautiful dark shiny slightly twisted leaf sprinkled with gorgeous golden, fuzzy leaf buds.  I love to look at the leaves under a magnifying glass and the surprise of the 'cat-tail' fuzziness always makes me smile.

Organic Golden Yunnan wet leaves.

WET LEAF:  The brewed wet leaves, typical of a fully oxidised tea, are a lovely coppery red with an undertone of green.  The leaves have been broken in their processing (likely during the rolling to break open the leaf's juices for oxidising) but you still see some whole, unopened buds about 1/2" (1 cm) long -- which were the golden fuzzies when dry. 

The wet leaves emit a crisp, sharp "black tea" aroma, with also a distinct and surprising note of honey dew melon (not the orange cataloup melon, but a ripe green honeydew).

Organic Golden Yunnan brewed liquor after 2 minutes.

LIQUOR: Aroma, appearance and flavour*.
And the liquor is definitely bitter -- slightly metallic taste of overbrewed black tea.
Soft to Medium brisk
Bright, on pouring and a beautiful rich orangey-red.