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. ;)

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