Saturday, August 25, 2012

Heavenly Feng Huang Hong Cha

Don't you love it when you're not paying attention, doing something, sipping your tea and then suddenly you go "hey, mmm, this is damn fine tea"?

Happened this morning while reading the Saturday newspaper and the cup of Feng Huang Hong Cha snapped me out of whatever I was reading.

Luku on right is lighter, more golden.

It's one of the three new 2012 black teas in my latest order from Camellia Sinensis which arrived a couple of days ago, and I decided to open this morning.

Medium bodied, smooth in the mouth, just enough snap to make it quenching and a wonderful hint of sweetness in the fruit-sauce (stonefruit?) end of things, a hint of a caramel note and an aftertaste hint of cinnamon too.  Very little bitterness. Mmmm, yes!

Feng Huang on left, Luku on right

I tasted it next to a black tea from Taiwan called Luku Hong Cha.  The two dry leaves couldn't be more different -- one thin and spidery and the other bent and folded sort of like a Ti Kwan Yin oolong (along with quite a few leaf stems).

I infused both at 95C at three minutes and then gave the Luku another 30 seconds because the leaves are rolled so tightly.

I'm afraid the Luku paled next to the Feng Huang -- perhaps not a fair pairing given how captured I am by the latter today.  The Luku is lighter bodied, abit of a tang in the flavour, along with faint wood smoke or hot metal, light furring on the mouth and a pasta flavour.  Overall rather flat, but perhaps that is just in comparison to you-know-who. I will give the Luku another try another day.

In the meantime, I'm heading right back to the CS site to order more of the Feng Huang before they run out.  It was the priciest of the three I ordered ($25 for 50 grams) but I'm happy to say the quality shines through. There's so much bad tea served in these parts, that I will support some delicious, fresh tea at this price to encourage more of it being available.

Feng Huang, by the way, means Phoenix, as in the mythical bird.  Or at least it means a mythical bird which we in the west have denoted as similar to our Phoenix.  Hong Cha means Red Tea which we in the west call Black Tea.  Per Camellia Sinensis, the tea is made in Guangdong province, which is on the south east coast of China.

Phoenix Oolong, is where I've heard the name before, as in the high-end Fenghuang Dan Cong oolong, reputedly made from tea trees which are several hundred years old in northern Guangdong province and southern Fujian province.   According to the Heiss' "The Story of Tea," "The teas are grown on and in the vicinity of Fenghuang, Phoenix Mountain, located in Chiuan and Chozhou counties.  This is a subtropical regions, and the tea grows at altitudes of 4,265 feet in terraced gardens composed of rocky, loose soil."

Hmmm, this makes me want to know what varietal of tea this black tea is and if it's a type usually used for oolong....?

Here's a couple snaps of the two teas' wet leaves.  Two things strike me immediately -- the leaves are on the large side, and both boast a beautifully even oxidation.  Their colour is an even green-tinged red-brown.  Like a used copper penny.

I opted for larger density photos here so you admire the leaves -- click to enlarge them.
Wet leaves of Feng Huang Hong Cha 2012 from Guangdong

Wet leaves of Luku Hong Cha 2012 from Taiwan showing
bud and leaf pluck and some beautiful downy pekoe on the
middle leaf.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wei Shan Mao Jian, sublime...

Holy smokes this is good tea.  Been on a Ceylon jag this summer but, and I'm not sure why, suddenly this morning, for my elevensies, I plucked Camellia Sinensis' beautiful 2012 Wei Shan Mao Jian from the tea drawer.

Wish I could share the sweet aroma of this tea.  But you can
click on the image to get a closer look at this handsome tea.

The aroma from the bag was what did it, really.  I sniffed and the sweet, fresh, green smell of spring captured my nose.  I've infused for 2 minutes at 85 or so degrees and the tea is smooth and light with a bit of pull on the inside of the cheeks, leaving the mouth feel refreshed. Nice touch of sweet buttery popcorn, is that sweet ripe stonefruit (peaches) or is just because it's that time of the summer, light light smoke/fire, and a hint of tea's bitter tang. Mmmmm-mmm.  Astringent and smooth at the same time.

The dried leaves are lightly crinkly and spidery, corded, and a rich green-gray with dashes of bright green and the odd fuzzy leaf bud.  Bright green medium-small leaves with the occasional green-bean-like bud can be seen in the wet leaves.

Mao Jian, as we know and per Babelcarp, translates as "downy tip." I've been told Mao Jian also refers to a type of pluck of one slightly larger leaf and a bud.  Shan means "mountain" and Wei, surprisingly, apparently has two meanings -- "taste" or "fake or inauthentic."   Hah.  Google tells me it's also the name of a place in Hunan province in China.

The bag suggests 85C at 3 to 4 minutes and for infusion-two I'll try a longer one.
I have a feeling it will give me a buzz.

Did second infusion at 4 minutes.  Brings out the bitter notes more, still smooth, still astringent.  I tend to be a bit sensitive to bitter (and salt) and think 3 minutes would be more to my taste.  That's just me though. ;)

Okay, now off to order more tea from Camellia Sinensis....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Edinburgh Breakfast from Majesteas

I had the pleasure of assisting my colleague The Tea Stylist at her Mother's Day presentation at The Bata Shoe Museum the other day.  I volunteered to prepare the tea for the 20+ folk who came to hear her lecture and taste some tea and food pairings.

The three teas were all wonderful -- an exquisite Wei Shan Mao Jian from Camellia Sinensis in Montreal, a beautiful High Mountain (Jade) Oolong Organic from Tao Tea Leaf in Toronto, and a black tea blend from Majesteas, also here in Toronto, called Edinburgh Breakfast .

This latter tea was a delightful discovery.  I don't tend to gravitate to blends but this one seduced me first by the wonderful, rich aroma of the dry leaves and then by its nicely balanced flavour and mouth feel.  I snaffued some of the left-overs and took it home to our Mother's Day lunch to share with family, and have enjoyed it the past couple of mornings as my breakfast tea.

Majesteas is co-owned and operated by Ian Macdonald and Robert Gignac, who are both Certified Tea Sommeliers out of the same George Brown program that I graduated from -- the cohort just after mine I believe. It's a small but well-stocked store with a couple of tables for enjoying a pot of tea and sweet snack.  Very inviting.

Both owners are knowledgeable and curious about tea, tea blending, and, most exciting in my books, sourcing fresh tea. In fact Robert is just back from a 17-day trip to China and Majesteas is having a spring tea tasting of some of his discoveries on May 26 and 27.  Oh la la!

The Tea:  Majesteas Edinburgh Breakfast

Water: just off the boil
Tea: 3.9 grams to 7 oz water (same ratio as the 2.5 grams to 5 oz water I generally use, but adapted for my teamaker)
Steep: 2 minutes

The appeal of this black tea starts with the very aromatic dry leaves -- put your nose in the package and breathe in its seductive malty aroma with spice and fruity (peachy?) notes. The package tells us it's a blend of Indian and Chinese black teas and doesn't suggest there have been any other scent or flavour additives so the beautiful aroma is just the tea.  Mmmmmm.

The liquor is light to medium bodied and nicely brisk. It has a bit of a snap to it and creates that pull at the side back of the tongue that brings water into the mouth. 

The flavour is malty and toasty (buttered brown toast) with a light note of cinammon and a faint sweet floral finish.

This strikes me as a beautifully balanced black tea blend -- one I would highly recomend for breakfast.  Or anytime really.  At any rate, I'll be heading out to Leslieville to get me some more.   Perhaps on the weekend of their new spring 2012 tea tasting.

Monday, April 30, 2012

More new China tea...Fengqing

On to the black tea that my sister in law brought home with her from China this month.  The package is dated on the bottom indicating the tea was made on September 16, 2011

My friend Tao translated the label for me and tells me it is a black tea from the Fengqing region which is a famous black tea region in the Yunnan province.  The package weight is 75g (and I presume the 90C refers to recommended water temp).  But, he went on to say, the other information is a bit confusing because it says it's produced by a Taiwan tea company, and imported by a Shanghai trade company from Taiwan to Mainland China.  Although Fengqing black tea is usually from Yunnan, it appears possible that this one may be produced in Taiwan in the Fengqing black tea style.  Huh.

From a quick ramble around the web it looks like Fengqing is know for Pu-erh tea.  And as for general info on the region, the Yunnan Adventure site told me that Yunnan Province is the most southwest region of China bordering the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.  It has a population of more than 43 million people (bigger than Canada) of which its 25 ethnic nationalities take up over 14 million. It has a diverse topography that ranges from alpine mountain ranges to tropical rainforests and the greatest number of plant species in China (more than 18,000) as well as an incredible array of animals, including the Asian elephant (!) and the protected Yunnan golden monkey.

On the tea side of things, apparently Yunnan's tea species are known as the "Yunnan large-leaf tea, which, just like the ideal Assam tea of India and the Kenya tea, belongs to superb tea species of the world, and is the ideal raw material for producing the black tea and Pu-erh tea."  (Camellia Sinensis Assamica -- the tea plant native to Assam, India is a larger-leafed plant than Camellia Sinensis Sinensis, the one native to the Chinese side of the mountains.  There are hundreds of varietals of each one now, each grown and/or developed for specific teas or climates.)

The website further states that "Comparing with the small-leaf species, Yunnan tea has higher polyphenol by 5-7% than the average value, catechin by 30-60% higher than the average value, and water-soluble substances by 3-5% higher than the average value."  That all sounds good, don't you think, although I've no idea where they got those numbers.

It's certainly a beautiful looking tea, and although the leaves are smaller, it reminds me of a Yunnan Golden Tips.  The tea has a slightly chunky look to it as opposed to spindly-spidery and fine.  It's mostly golden-coloured leaf buds covered in that youthful fur (pekoe) along with some darker leaves and leaf veins.

The aroma out of the bag is sweet, then like mintyness of a mouthwash?  Hmmm must be the bag.  Hate that.

The liquor -- well I completely ruined this tea -- infused for too long on the first steep so it showed too much of a bitter note which subsumed pretty much any others.

A second steep results in a light bodied liquor with an odd bitter-sour dominant note.  In behind that are faint hints of grainy sweetness.

Bah!  I've completely ruined this tea by not paying attention to its preparation.  I put too much in the Piao teamaker and infused for too long.

I'll have to wait until my mouth recovers and try again later to give this tea its due.






TAKE TWO, a few hours later.

Leaves: 3.9 grams in 7 oz of water
Water: 90C
Infuse: 45 seconds

The dry leaves have a warm slightly sweet aroma -- a pleasant whiff of a hay mow, and some baked fire.

This infuses to dark rich red-brown more quickly than I was expecting given all the little buds in there.  The wet leaves give a faint hint of sharp fine spice, like clove, at the end.

The liquor is pretty smooth and light bodied -- only minor furring on the tongue.  Very light caramel note.  (I was expecting more, like a Golden Monkey, given all those golden buds.)  Something pleasantly toasty like a roasted marshmellow.  Ends with some bitterness on the sides of the back of the tongue, along with a wateryness in the bottom of the jaw.

Overall I have to say there's not much to this tea.  Rather disappointing -- quite flat -- after my anticipation of this relatively fresh tea.  And it's so pretty and all.  It's possible it's the water, which has been boiled three times as I top up the kettle.  Hmmm.  Okay, I'll give this tea another go -- but not til' another day.  Fresh water.  Proper prep!

TAKE THREE, in early July

Okay, I put entirely fresh spring water in the kettle and it has made a modest difference.  Or perhaps my taste buds are just in a happier mood today.  It's still a light bodied liquor, but there are sweeter caramel and honey notes and the tea is just not so dead in the mouth.  It's got a decent balance to its flavour profile today.

I'm still not sure I'd rush back for more of this tea though.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fresh 2012 Bi Lo Chun from China

Just before she left for China two weeks ago my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I'd like. "Fresh tea.  Really fresh tea," I said.  And she delivered it yesterday.  What a gal.

Xi Shan Bi Lo Chun - a green tea which, according to its label, was made April 8, 2012.  That's fresh.
Tie Guan Yin - an oolong, undated but packed in individual serving-sized foil wraps
A black tea - lots of gold furry buds, without an english label but dated September 16, 2011.  Fresher than most tea you can buy in Toronto.

Xi Shan Bi Lo Chun or Green Spring Snail 
Okay, first up is the Green Spring Snail which is a baked (rather than steamed) green tea from the Jiangsu province in China.  ( I did a previous posting on another example of this type of tea last year.)

The dried tea has a distinctive gray-green colour. Click the
image to have a close look at these beautiful furred leaf buds.
According to The Tea Drinkers Handbook this tea's original name translated as "astounding fragrance" or "fragrance to cause fear and trembling" and when I snipped open the foil inner packet yesterday the aroma did indeed knock me over.  So big and fresh and sweet and green!  It was made only three weeks ago -- no wonder.

It's current name -- apparently changed by an Emperor during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is Bi Lo Chun, sometimes translated as Pi Luo Chun, which means Green (bi) Spring (chun) Snail (lo), and is named for its coiled snail-like shape and the fact it's only manufactured in the spring from the year's earliest plucks.

Separating out the bud-sets you can see the
coiled, snail-like shape which gave it its name.

The always informative SevenCups website further explains the "Xi Shan" part of its name: Within and around the Tai Lake in Jiangsu Province is Dong Ting Mountain where Bi Luo Chun originates. Dong Ting actually refers to two mountains known as Dong Shan (East) seated on the eastern edge of the lake and Xi Shan (West) which sits on an island within Tai Hu. The taste and aroma varies between Bi Luo Chun harvested from these two mountains. Dong Shan Bi Luo Chun has darker and bigger leaves with a rich taste. Xi Shan Bi Luo Chun has small, tender leaves with a gentle taste. 

FYI the Bi Lo Chun I posted about last year was from the mountain on the other side of the lake.

The Tea
Water at 80C for 2 minutes.
I wanted to emphasise the flavours a bit so I did a longer steep than needed.  I will try this at 1 1/2 and 1 minute tomorrow for regular drinking.

The dry leaves give off a big, heady perfume which is sweetly floral with a hint of light lemon, along with a sweet vegetal aroma like steamed spinach and a faint marine (fishy) note -- along with so much else that I'm at a loss for words.  Everything about the aroma is amped.

Bright green of the tiny, tiny leaf buds.
The liquor is a pale, golden green, getting more golden as it oxidises in the glass pot next to me, and is slightly cloudy.  This is due to the teeny leaf bud hairs floating about which seem to add a firmness to the tea's mouth-feel as well.  (Cloudiness can also be due to a high L-Theanine content -- the amino acid which is credited with contributing the calming effect of tea despite its caffeine content.)

The tea has fresh light body with good briskness -- snappy I'd say.  There's a toasty nuttiness, followed by a sweet green vegetal (spinach) flavour and a light marine-ness (seaweed) which is then balanced out by a nice tartness.  Its briskness dries the sides at the back of my tongue, watering my mouth and leaving me thirst-quenched.  What a great tea!

Pale golden green liquor of
the 3-week new Bi Lo Chun.
After drinking it all day I can certainly attest to this tea's caffeine content:  I'm buzz buzz buzzing. Nothing like fresh, spring leaf buds for big fresh flavour and big caffeine.

The refreshing briskness of this Bi Lo Chun reminds me of the wonderful Ceylon tea a friend brought back from Sri Lanka for me. It also had a wonderful lemony snap to it, and became my favorite morning tea, until it was gone.  It also was a very fresh tea -- coincidence?

The thing I've found about freshly made tea is, not surprisingly, its flavour has huge breadth.  Beyond the tea type's distinctive flavour characteristics freshness delivers flavour nuances big time.  As a fresh rose blossom's aroma is so much more than just "rose" (think peppery, peach, almond), so fresh tea is more than just toasty, vegetal and/or malty.  In fresh tea those flavour notes sing with so much.  I've been drinking (mostly black) tea for decades and enjoying the way it perks me up and calms me down and has a wonderful bitter-sweet brew.  But in recent years I've had the occasional really freshly made tea and discovered a whole new world of flavour in tea.  Yahoo.  More, I say!
The shop in Shanghai where it came from...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Ceylon from Parliament St.

It arrived in a ziplock so I've absolutely no information about this tea except that it comes from Sri Lanka, and was bought at a Sri Lankan grocery store on Parliament Street.  Which I'm going to have to visit because this is one of the nicer Ceylon tea I've had in awhile.
A medium-sized leaf and an even coppery colour.

After the wet leaves fill your nose with their damp, lightly toasty, tangy raiseny aroma there's a fresh, light perfumey note of spices in the cinnamon and clove range.  How lovely!

The liquor is rich red-brown and light to medium bodied -- a clean feel on my tongue with just the lightest furring, and a bit of briskness.  The spice notes have become a faint honeyed floral note in the mouth.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seville Orange Marmalade 2012

Batch #1.  Bright and light although fruit rose abit during setting.

I almost missed the Seville oranges this year!   I don't know if it's my imagination but they seem to be coming earlier -- when I started making it in about 2004 it was "end of January, early February."  When I went looking for them this year on January 23rd (thinking I'd be early) I was told I'd pretty much missed them.  Yikes.  I love bitter orange marmalade and I started making it so I could make it as bitter-sweet as possible.

Anyway, this tasting post is not about almost missing the oranges but rather about the two batches I made this year from very different recipes.  The first was from the one I've using from the beginning (with my own naive changes) which is from Edna Staebler's More Food That Schmecks.  

All the juice, fruit and water is left to
sit overnight before boiling down.

I think of it as a traditional Seville Orange Marmalade recipe because it calls for the final boiling (after you've added the sugar) to be brisk and full and go on for about 20 to 30 minutes until it reaches the magic 105C  -- which is (apparently) the setting point for the sugary mix.  This means, after it's cooled in the jars it will be firm or at least firmish rather than liquid.

OK, all cards on the table, for years I've been using more than the recipe's called-for 11 oranges and trying to add less sugar so it wouldn't be tooth-zinging sweet. What I realised this year is that I should just follow the recipe and that it's not good to try and double or increase it.  There are optimum amounts for making it.

14 gorgeous bright jars of marmy.

So I followed the recipe but couldn't help reducing the sugar just a bit. I still had great trouble getting it to the 105C set point but after putting a lid on my big old stock pot and it boiled over making an incredible mess of the stove -- it seems to have reached temperature.  Although a loose set, it did at least set when cooled.  I didn't have to reboil it the next day and add lemon juice (for pectin) and more sugar.

But the big news is ...that with the leftover six Seville oranges I subsequently tried a new recipe for Dark Chunky Seville Orange marmalade which, instead of a fast hard boil, calls for a long slow three to four hour bubbling simmer.  This resulted in an incredibly tasty, rich, spicy tasting brew.  I think I'm a convert.

Batch #1 and Batch #2 -- different and delicious!

While both are, frankly, incredibly delicious and have wonderful bitter-sweet citrus flavour they are quite different.

Batch #1 is light in texture in the mouth and the flavour focuses more on the tangy citrus zing of the oranges -- light and bright with a great mouth puckering zip one expects from Seville Orange Marmalade.  It's also a most beautiful bright, clear jelly, isn't it?

Batch #2, on the other hand, is thicker in the mouth -- like honey or treacle -- and has a rich full orange flavour with almost cinnamon or clove spicy notes.  This must be something the Seville orange gives up over the longer cooking time of this recipe.  It still has the requisite bitter-sweet Seville Marmalade profile but it's not as aggressive on the tongue.  And, of course, it's much darker in colour -- due to the longer boiling too.

Batch #2 has a thick treacle-like texture.

Oh my.  I do love both of them but for the rich, spicy notes, as well as the easier cooking method, I think I'll stick to the Dark Chunky Seville Orange recipe in the future.