Monday, September 26, 2011

Food for fair trade thought....

I came across a 2009 article in the London Sunday Times...which mentions a Danish film called "The Bitter Taste of Tea"

You can watch the film here, at Films On Demand.

An eye-opener.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Caffeine in Tea -- more info

Hey -- even more great  info about how much caffeine is in tea.

Camellia Sinensis -- tea store and importer extraordinaire in Montreal -- did a test of their own and you can find the results here.  They're also included in their book, recently translated in to english.
Available for sale at their site

What I can't discern from the info on-line is how old the tea was that the tests were done on.  I've always assumed that as teas age and flavour fades everything else does too so that older (stale) tea has less caffeine.  I'm also curious about what the results mean for oolong which one usually steeps for a series of short infusions -- 1 minute, then 30 secs, then 45 secs, etc.  But perhaps it's cumulative time vis a vis the oolongs...?  And the Gyokuro they tested is way down the list while the Hujicha was quite high!  Questions, questions.

UPDATE April 2012: I'm going to Kevin Gascoyne's presentation on this subject at the Tea Expo in June and look forward to the opportunity to get more background information.  (He's one of the partners at Camellia Sinensis.)  More later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Kenyan black tea from Kangaita

When I was studying tea a fellow student -- who turned out to be a ringer of sorts (he was an established tea merchant and blender) -- brought some three-week old Kenyan tea to share with the class.  It was a stand-out:  mind-blowingly rich in flavour breadth.  A truly fresh cup of tea and one against which I have measured black tea since.  Hence my conviction that, nice as alot of tea here is, it doesn't hold a candle to freshly manufactured tea because it is often 6 months to 5 years old and therefore stale by comparison.

So I was interested to try this Kenyan black tea made at the Kangaita Tea Factory from Camellia Sinensis.

Kenyan black from Kangaita

Thrillingly, for a tea detective comme moi, there's tons of info at the Tea Board of Kenya's site.

From there I get: "The main tea growing areas in Kenya are situated in and around the highland areas on both sides of the Great Rift Valley; and astride the Equator within altitudes of between 1500 metres (4900 ft) and 2700 metres (8800 ft) above the sea level. These regions include the areas around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdares, and the Nyambene hills in the Central Kenya and the Mau escarpment , Kericho Highlands, Nandi  and Kisii Highlands and the Cherangani Hills."  That's incredibly high.  The Indian Nilgiri tea region boasts having the highest tea plantation at 8000 feet (the Korakundah Estate) so it looks like Kenya may beat them.  And the "high grown" teas of Sri Lanka are generally at 6000 feet.

From my tea studies at George Brown College I understood that tea plantations the world over relied on heavy fertilising to get the plants to deliver the quantity needed to be economically viable.  Interestingly the Kenyan Tea Board site says that "Kenya tea is grown free of agrochemicals because the ideal environment in which the tea is grown acts as a natural deterrent to pests’ infestation and diseases attack;"  If that's so then all Kenyan tea is organic, right?  Must check that out.  Wait.  Further down the page they talk about using fertilisers in compliance with recommendations and ditto for agrochemicals when needed for pests. Clearly not organic.  Bit confusing though.

(Excerpted from their website) Kangaita is one of the 60 factories being managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA). It  is one of the oldest tea factories within the KTDA stable having been built in 1965 and currently serves about 5730 small scale tea farmers. 

Kangaita Tea Factory is located on the southern slopes of Mount Kenya, 700 meters from the start of the extensive Mount Kenya forest and with a spectacular view of the snow capped peaks of the Mountain. It’s on a relatively high altitude of 2036M above sea level approximately ½° south of the equator and approximately along the 37.3° E longitude.
More than 40 years as a tea processor gives the company a solid experience in this industry. This, combined with cool climatic conditions, high altitude and volcanic soils gives Kangaita an edge as a producer of teas with excellent taste and aroma popular with our key markets such as the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

Kangaita is Fair-Trade certified, which means it sells its teas at a premium and the surplus is used to develop local community projects. The factory is also ISO 9001-2000 certified.

The Tea...
The wet leaves are a coppery brown with some very dark green showing and give off some of the vegetable soup aroma which I remember, as well as a brief, fruity sweet note like peaches and then a heavier raiseny scent I associate with most black tea.

The liquor has a full firm body with fruity flavour notes. Tea's natural bitterness is softened and rounded here by a hint of caramely sweetness. I added milk for the last half of the cup as is my wont -- and on the last few sips there's a faint, cocoa flavour note.

This is definitely not a three-week old tea -- it doesn't have the breadth and strength of flavour notes of that first cup of Kenyan I had.  But it retains some of the distinctive (to my palate) vegetable soup and fruity notes.  I wouldn't say this is a sophisticated or complex tea, but very pleasant for this afternoon.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Two Nilgiri Teas, one 2011

I've been looking forward to the 2011 crop of teas and just ordered a couple from Camellia Sinensis in Montreal -- which came very quickly, by the way, and with a little handwritten note.  Classy. 

First up is an organic 2011 Nilgiri from the Coonoor Estate, if I understand the label correctly, although the name may simply refer to the town of Coonoor which has a number of small tea gardens.  At any rate, Coonoor is at 1839 metres which is 6000 feet.  A high grown tea.

To give this tea a good run, I'm tasting it next to another Nilgiri that I bought locally which is likely a 2010.  It is from the Korakundah Estate, reportedly the highest tea plantation in the world at some 8000 feet.  It's also organically grown.

I've not had much tea from Nilgiri so here goes.

The Nilgiri are named for the blue flowering Neelakurinji which
bloom once every 12 years -- the last time in 2006.

The Nilgiri mountains -- which translates as the blue mountains -- are in the southern tip of India and are part of the Western Ghat mountain range which runs down the west side of the country.   The tea plantations cover a relatively small area of roughly 35 miles by 20 miles within the mountain range.  The region has two (!) monsoon seasons a year and the resulting plucking seasons can apparently offer quite distinct flavours.  Tea plucking does take place year round as there is no dormant season but teas plucked from December to March are reputedly considered the best.  In these months there is still often the threat of frost and as a result they are referred to as 'frost teas.'  According to The Story of Tea, Nilgiri teas do not cloud and are therefore sought by iced tea makers too.  (Generally, when a tea clouds it signals high levels of L-Theonine which is the ingredient in tea that calms us.)

In Nilgiri only 30% of the tea is grown by large estates.  The rest is grown by small producers who then sell their green leaf to "bought leaf factories."  The region has certainly experienced some highs and lows.  For many decades it focused on the Russian market supplying  reams of inexpensive, quite ordinary tea to an unfussy Russian and eastern European market.  But that dried up in the 1990s.  However, it was also a Nilgiri tea that broke world price records for black tea by selling for $600 per kilo at an auction in Las Vegas in 2006 where it took "top Honours."   The tea was a Glendale Estate's SFTGFOP.

BTW - here is a nice little video on tea making in the Nilgiri region.  Good footage to view for understanding how black tea is made too -- plucking, withering, rolling, oxidising although the baking part is not so clear.  Notice that there is footage of one plucker using a pair of garden shears with what looks like a metal dustbin attached to one blade.  The dustbin catches the sheared leaves. Hmm.  I'm not sure it would be any less work to have to hold the shears, etc out all day versus simply hand-plucking...?

Before we get to the tea, one final bit of info:  according to wikipedia the Nilgiris are called "blue" because of the once abundant blue-flowering shrubs called Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) which bloom only once every 12 years.  That would have been a magnificent sight, although I'm sure what's left in between the tea plantations is also lovely to see in bloom.

The Tea
3.9 gr tea in 7 ozs water at 90C for 2 minutes 10 seconds.  (Camellia Sinensis recommended 90C on their package so I'm going with it.)

The very different dry leaves of two organic Nilgiri black teas.
Korakundah on the left and Coonoor on the right.
Click to have a closer look.  G'wan.

The dry leaves of these two organic Nilgiris couldn't be more different.  One is very large leafed,  medium-twisted, slender, somewhat curly, crispy dark charcoal grey leaves with (under my loup) the occasional golden furry pekoe.  The other, the Korakundah, is small chunky bits of differing sizes with some leaf stems in a warm brown and browny grey.

Hah.  The plucker using the garden shears in that video?  That would explain perhaps the twiggy bits in the Korakundah tea. And the broken leaf.  The Coonoor would have been hand plucked to get those whole leaves.

Wet leaves - Korakundah on left, Coonoor on right.
Click for a closer look.

The difference when the leaves are wet is even more pronounced although, especially considering these are black teas, they both show a surprising amount of green.

I assume that is due to their high-altitude manufacture where it might be drier and the habit to give a long, hard wither, as they do in Darjeeling.

Oddly the aroma off the Korakundah wet leaves and the liquor calls to mind play-doh (not entirely pleasant), which will only have meaning to others who enjoyed this plasticene-like toy as a child, likely.  The wet leaves also give me a marine note and abit of a spicy floral note.

The large leaves of the 2011 Nilgiri Coonoor
I'm so intrigued by the leaves of the Coonoor I had to take another snap.  These are huge leaves and so green!  Hardly showing any oxidation at all.  I might have thought these were an oolong if I'd just met them.  You can also see that the pluck included buds and two leaves as well as larger more mature leaves.

The first aroma off the wet Coonoor leaves is a light sweet caramel, then a toasty fire -- then a biscuity aroma, abit of baked squash and is that just a hint of the almost peppery sweet cinnamon?

Korakundah on left, Coonoor on right.  Could they
be more different?

Well no surprise, the steeped liquor of these two Nilgiris looks completely different too.  The Coonoor is a light bright clear orange  and the Korakundah is a quite dark red-brown.  I will have to let the liquor site for 10 minutes or so next time I brew them to see if the liquor stays clear.

Coonoor Liquor
I have to say that I've been getting a sweet caramel note from this tea from the moment I opened the bag.  The liquor mouth-feel is light with only a bit of soft furring on the tongue.  It's giving me a very light bitter tang, a caramel note with other sweet top notes through my nose, a bit of dried apricot and there's a sweet citrus flavour in the aftertaste -- like sweet orange.  Overall this tea has nice clean feel in the mouth - it's got a light body with very light astringency despite the sweet citric note.  I add milk to my black teas and it flattens the flavours of this tea a bit while sweetening everything, as is usual with the milk addition.

The colour of the liquor, even after adding the milk is bright.  In fact, the milk is pooling into clouds and pulling away from the sides of the glass pot I'm using.  Interesting.

Korakundah Liquor
Again, completely different than the other Nilgiri.  This is a heavier-bodied, simpler tea with fewer flavour notes.  There's quite abit of bitterness which hits the tip end of my tongue.  The milk sweetens, makes it less bitter and gives the liquor, which is quite dull, a browny blue look.

What a contrast these two Nilgiris are.  I'm quite excited about the Coonoor and look forward to further tastings tomorrow morning.  It's almost like a Golden Monkey-light with those caramel notes. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Caffeine in Tea

This is not a tasting post, but rather than wait until my next one I wanted to post this link right away while I have it in my "control c".

It's still puzzling to me how much misinformation there is out there from presumably reputable and well-meaning sources about the caffeine content of tea.

Here's the real scoop, an article titled Too Easy to be True De-bunking the At-Home Decaffeination Myth
written by American Bruce Richardson and based on a scientific study. (The article appeared in the January 2009 edition of Fresh Cup magazine and is copyrighted material.)  The article's focus is another widespread myth about being able to decaffeinate tea by "washing" with hot water, but the testing done to disprove that one provides great information on the caffeine content of tea.  BTW Bruce is the co-author, with renowned UK tea lecturer Jane Pettigrew, of the 2008 expanded edition of The New Tea Companion.

The upshot is that unless you know what kind of tea plant, when and how the tea was made and what part of the plant the tea leaves came from -- there's no way of really knowing how much caffeine is in your cup.  An educated tea drinker though can make a pretty good guess so have a look and become an educated tea drinker too.

P.S.  Enjoying Long Jing (or Lung Jing or Lung Ching, etc) this afternoon.
Handsome shiny flat Lung Jing.  

Can't remember where I got this Lung Jing but it still has
some tasty sparkle and zing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bi Luo Chun green tea from China

Visited a friend last week who mentioned her current favorite green tea is a Bi Luo Chun (Spring Snail Shell).  Easily influenced, I found my eye landing on some Bi Luo Chun in my tea drawer.

The stuff I have is truly a beautiful looking tea.  From an arm's length it's a sage green-grey but when you look more closely it is a mix of dark grey with dark green small twisted leaves and flecks of brighter green dusted with the pekoe of the many teeny buds.  It's from Tao's wonderful tea shop and the label tells me it from the East Mountain of Dong Ting Lake in the Jiangsu Province of China.  According to the Tea Drinker's Handbook, this tea in Jiangsu is only harvested once a year at the end of March.

Bi Luo Chun is considered one of the Ten Famous Teas of China.  It's also known as Dong Ting or Pi Lo Chun and, in English, Green Snail Spring.  To truly appreciate the work involved in making 500 grams of this tea, have a look at Chinese Tea 101 which has a wonderful series of photos of the process from plucking to baking.

The beautiful, pekoe-covered leaves of the Bi Luo Chun from Tao's.
The Tea
3.8 grams in 7 oz of 80C water for 1 minute.  Second steep 1 minute.

Can you see the little flower bud
in the lower right quadrant?
When I open the jar the first pleasure of this tea is a rush of fresh clean green aroma, abit like a fresh mown lawn.  The tiny, tiny leaves are whole, tightly wound and tend to curl into little "U's" or spirals.  There's also alot of silvery and pale yellow furry pekoe.

The wet leaves area a bright green and the leaves are a uniform size, tiny and narrow, an indication of its high quality.  Some show a slight rusty brown and I don't know if that is from a little oxidising on the bush or during the withering.  The first aroma is of the "fire" from its processing -- so different from all the Japanese steamed green teas I've been enjoying.  This is followed by rich fried greens and/or nuts (chestnut?) along with a slight sweetness and finished off with just the lightest tang which gives it a nice clean profile.

Bi Lo Chun liquor

The liquor is a mid-golden yellow.  It has good astringency which gives me a slight furring on the tongue, and abit of a pucker.

The flavour is beautifully balanced between a light floral sweetness, a clean lemony snap, fresh raw green bean and abit of bitterness on the sides of the tongue.  (To my tongue, one of the integral flavour notes of tea is bitterness, like another popular beverage -- beer.)  I do love that tang -- so charactertistic of baked green teas, perhaps mostly chinese green teas; it's like the raw green leaf.

My first second brew at 2 minutes was quite bitter -- like slightly burnt fried onions or chinese greens, and I realised I should not have increased the brewing time.  Actually, the best subsequent steeps were all at 1-minute, which continued to give me good flavour and pleasure in the cup.  BTW I got quite a caffeine buzz from this tea which makes sense since it's all buds.

I've made this a number of times over the past few days and I keep thinking that if this were a wine it would be one of my favorites, an excellent Chablis -- crisp and bright with a minerally finish. 

Later:  I made a small pot of this tea a couple weeks ago for some friends and we did three very flavourful steeps from the same leaves.  This is a wonderful example of this tea type and one that just keeps on giving.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spices in a soup

Spinach soup with cumin, cloves, nutmeg, lemon zest and lemon juice.

It's a bright very cold wintry day here in the great white north.  Minus 15C.  Some home-made hot soup is in order and thus this lovely spinach soup seasoned with cumin, cloves, nutmeg, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Oy! It's absolutely delicious if I do say so myself.  Thought I'd include it here since the spices are really waking up the taste buds and making them smile.  The warmth and exoticness of the cumin always does it for me and today the small hint of clove and nutmeg add a wonderful dark note of heat way in the background.  The lemon zest, well what's better for adding zing to the flavour of anything?  And the lemon juice itself adds abit of astringency which makes the broth very refreshing. 

Recipe Note: found in the marvelous The Greens cookbook.

Monday, January 31, 2011


Even more on Gyokuro.  Can you stand it?  Mmmmmm it's just so darn delicious though.

Ordered this latest lot on-line from Yuuki-cha in Japan last week and I picked it up at the post office this afternoon.   Organic Uji Gyokuro Gokou which Yuuki-cha describe thus:

A first harvest organic gyokuro tea (Jade Dew) from a small organic tea garden in Uji. It is made exclusively from the tea bush varietal known as Gokou. Carefully grown under diffused sunlight for an extended 30 days before harvest, as opposed to the shorter 20 days that is often suggested. It is minimally processed and sorted and is 100% Uji Gyokuro. This type of unique farmer's gyokuro has become more and more popular over recent years and is very much in demand due to its more natural flavor than blended and/or heavily processed gyokuro teas. It has a rich, sweet, dense, briny taste with a marine aroma, a deep green liquor color, and an almost buttery aftertaste! 

Opening the bag there's a big rush of sweet rich aroma -- sweeter than any Gyokuro I've had before, sweet like a floral sweet, almost hyacinth.  (I went to my cupboard and smelled raisens and apricots and then the sweet frozen berries in the freezer to give my nose a reference just to be sure.)  Also some of that nut hint I've noticed in Gyokuro before as well as big green vegetal and marine aromas.

4 grams in 7 ozs of 65C water for 1 minute.

Wet leaves are a bright mid and dark green mix, can still see leaf shapes and stringy bits of leaf veins, etc.  Strong vegetal, marine and big chestnut (I swear it's chestnut) aromas. 

Beautiful pale bluey green liquor.

Smooth, sweet soft flavour, no astringency at all.  A tiny kick of bitter on the back sides of the tongue as it goes down.  This smells and tastes unlike any gyokuro I've had before -- the breadth of flavour and aroma is greater but also that chestnut note is really forward in this tea.  Different.  Surprising.  Really nice.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Yesterday, January 29, 2011,  I had the pleasure of being a presenter at the Tea Guild of Canada's second annual public tea tasting event which this year paired a number of teas and chocolate.  The Guild is a volunteer-run association founded by the first lot of certified Canadian tea sommeliers which is open to all tea enthusiasts and is dedicated to furthering the delicious 'cause' of tea appreciation and tea education.

Held at the lovely historic Montgomery's Inn in Etobicoke, it drew some 44 people for afternoon's 3-hour tasting which featured four tasting stations highlighting green, black, oolong and blended teas paired with various (mostly) home-made chocolate treats.

Actually, when I say "home made" chocolate treats I do them a disservice.  The chocolate mousse (!) and other treats were made by Bill Kamula, Laura Bryan and Raelene Gannon, all excellent and professional pastry and chocolate chefs.  Some chocolate bars and buttons were contributed by sponsors to round out the tasting samples.

My task was to present the Japanese steamed green tea, gyokuro, and a dark chocolate.  A total treat since I love both and find them to be a terrific pairing.

Have you tried it?  The soft sweet-ish flavour and satiny mouthfeel of the gyokuro is an incredibly nice match with the rich, bitter-ish flavour and earthy mouthfeel of plain, 80%+ dark chocolate.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A gift of fresh tea from Sri Lanka

 Oh boy.  A friend brought me back two boxes of tea from his recent trip to Sri Lanka.  They visited the Mackwood Tea Estate and the tea is from there.  A box of Ceylon Orange Pekoe (whole leaf) and a box of Ceylon Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings.  Fannings, I said to myself?  Well, okay, thanks.

The Orange Pekoe looks beautiful -- large-ish medium twist leaves of an even size which brew up a beautiful cup of bright red-brown tea.  Full of flavour -- it's fresh after all.  And it has a lovely astringency.  A classic high-grown ceylon.

But the big news was the kapow flavour of the Fannings.  Now, we know fannings can deliver alot of flavour quickly because there are more exposed insides of the leaf but who knew that when you combine that with really fresh tea how big and wonderful the flavour could be?  I take back any derogatory thoughts I ever had about fannings. This has been my breakfast tea everyday since I opened it.

Now that I've blurted about the tea, here's the scoop on Mackwoods: one of the oldest tea companies in Sri Lanka it was established in 1841, initially as a coffee plantation.  I've noticed that most of the Sri Lankan tea companies are involved in many industry sectors and rarely just tea.  This is true of Mackwoods too and its website explains that "today, Mackwoods is a Conglomerate of several companies engaged in essential sectors of the Sri Lankan economy; namely – Agribusiness and Plantations (Tea, Rubber and Oil Palm), Healthcare (Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment); Science & Technology; Information Technology Education, and Software Development; Imports and Value Added Exports; Energy Sector; Leisure Sector; Manufacturing Sector; and Financial Services (Insurance, Asset Management & Stockbroking). Mackwoods provides employment to approximately 8,500 individuals, and owns & manages 27,000 acres."

But back to the tea -- it comes from their Labookellie Estate which is in the Nuwara Eliya region.  Nuwara Eliya is the highest tea region in the country at about 6000 feet and tea from that region is considered the best and, I've been told, is rarely blended.  One of these days I'll go and see for myself.