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.