Keemun from Taiwan

I drank the same tea two days in a row, a rarity for me. The reason is because I completely misjudged the amount of tea I should use in such a small pot for blacks, so I ended up with too much tea (and not enough water). So eventually, I just dumped the leaves out into a mug and drank it that way yesterday.

The tea in question is a Keemun I got in Taiwan. No, it’s not a Taiwanese Keemun… just sold in Taiwan.

Keemun, like Lapsang and a few other blacks from China, are generally better grade when the leaves get smaller. I remember, almost two years ago, I tried two Lapsang from the same guy but of slightly different grades. The difference between the two was subtle but very present. The differences in price for higher grades of black usually isn’t that much more than the lower ones, and since I drink this stuff only very occasionally, I figured it’s a good investment.

I like Keemuns because they are sweet. I think brewing them English style is a complete waste of tea and time — Indian blacks are probably better for that purpose. Using a gaiwan might work best. I am using a yixing pot simply as a way to experiment. It doesn’t work terribly well with the small leaves — the pot gets clogged. I should actually find one of my gaiwans and brew the same tea (again!) in it and see what happens.

Rishi Yunnan Gold

It’s annoying when your camera runs out of battery when you’re about to upload pictures and then go to bed.

Anyway, yesterday I drank some more Yunnan Gold, this one from Rishi. I bought this at least 3 years ago, in one of those little overpriced tins from Whole Foods. Impulse purchase, you can say

The leaves here are a bit more broken, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have used the leaves quite a few times and that this is more of a bottom of the pile than a fresh tin. Otherwise, looks rather similar to the Adagio stuff.

The colour of the tea also brewed a little darker

Again, possibly a result of the more broken leaves, and perhaps, just perhaps, a little to do with the fact that it’s been aged a few years. Since black teas do not go through kill green, I’d imagine something is still working to change the tea, somehow. If oolongs can age, surely so can blacks.

The tea’s smooth, round, a little more bitter, but that might just be my brewing, and all in all not a bad cup. Costs too much, but that’s another problem entirely. I know Yunnan Gold seems to be a fan favourite among Western tea drinkers, although I personally prefer the sweeter Keemun. Come to think of it, maybe I should drink some of my stash today…

Adagio Yunnan Gold

I decided to start brewing some of my black teas gongfu style. So far I usually drink this stuff as is in the grandfather way — some leaves in a big mug and continuous refilling with hot water as necessary. But since these things are usually referred to as “gongfu hongcha”, why should I not do it the proper way?

The first up is what I used as wedding favours… Adagio’s Yunnan Gold

Clean, sweet, with a slight undertone of bitterness, full bodied. Not a bad tea, I think, although without comparison given the fact that I’m using a new (for me) pot and all, I don’t want to say too much about it yet.

All look same

Mr. Lochan sent me quite a few samples. I only went through two. Today I thought I’d pick up the third one.

One thing about Darjeelings, at least first flush, high grade darjeelings, is that they all look sort of the same

Which really makes me think… can the average buyer of darjeeling tell them apart, if tasted blind — especially with English brewing methods? This is a good tea, with all the right notes for a darjeeling. However, I can’t quite remember how this might or might not be different from the other ones I’ve had so far. Perhaps they’re from the same estate, so the taste is only minimally different — since there are no names, I can’t tell for sure. Or, maybe because I’m brewing it in an approximation of English style…. the differences aren’t as obvious. I wonder if I should switch to a small pot to make these things.

Wedding favours

Tea seems to be getting more popular as a wedding favour these days. It makes sense — it can come in small quantities and nicely presented. I recently went to a wedding in LA where the favour was two of those flowering jasmine balls. They’re pretty (thought usually not very tasty) and suits the purpose pretty well. I’ve also heard of people giving out those individualized teabags, usually one of those fancy pyramid shaped ones, as a favour.

My original idea for my own favour was to make a gaiwan for everybody — ordering them from China direct, since I have the friends who know people who make gaiwans. But it was getting too costly, especially with the risk of breakage in shipping, etc etc, so that was dumped as an idea. So I turned to Adagio, who offer sample sized tins with bags as favours. Ok…. but why are they all “vanilla”, “strawberry”, “licorice” flavoured teas??

I guess part of the problem is cost — favours are supposed to be cheap, I guess, but I can’t stand the idea of giving my guests such swill…

So after some discussion with the sales rep, who told me that for many teas they can’t do the number of favours I need, it seems like Yunnan gold is one of the ones that seems accpetable. I ordered one to try, and this is it — looks fairly ok, methinks. The tea is not too bad itself — quite smooth, mellow, nothing too exciting, but Yunnan gold isn’t really supposed to be exciting. I originally wanted to do a Keemun, as I think they are better teas, but alas, they don’t have enough of it, and I don’t trust oolongs or greens from them. To be fair though, I’ve never ordered from them before, so I don’t know for sure, but I tend to think that for things like this which might go to people who never otherwise drink loose leaf tea, giving them something too exotic can possibly provoke a bad reaction in one form or another — think people who might dump the whole sample into a pot and brew it five minutes. In fact, I wonder if I should make a note to make sure people don’t do that…

Green is the new black

As Mr. Lochan pointed out — the picture I posted yesterday is, indeed, a picture of a darjeeling first flush for this year.

The tea tastes like a first flush, but looking at it…. I personally had a lot of trouble with the very green colour. Not because the tea was bad, but because there’s a slight disconnect between what it was and what I expected. You can tell right away when drinking the tea that it’s obviously a darjeeling first flush. But that, usually, comes with a certain thinking that perhaps the tea should be darker…. which is utterly untrue.

Just goes to show how little the colour of a tea tells you about really anything.

Crawling back out from the boxes

Moving, especially long distance moving, entails lots of packing and lots of unpacking. I’m still surrounded by boxes, half packed, half unpacked. It’s frightening to think that it takes about 5 largish boxes to hold all my tea stuff. It’s also obvious to me that, despite my earlier attempt to unload some of my teaware, I still have far too much of it.

So, while my tea stuff are still being unpacked, I have been subsisting on a few samples kindly provided by Mr. Lochan of Lochan Tea. These are all 2008 first flush FTGFOP darjeelings, or “Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”. There are a total of 8 samples, and I’ve only tried two, numbered 3 and 4. It’s quite interesting brewing teas you know very little about. I remember once upon a time, when I was first exploring the world of tea, when first flush darjeelings were one of my favourites — especially the greener kind that gives a nice fragrance. I’ve since left that world and pursued other kinds of teas, but brewing some of these reminded me why I liked them in the first place.

I use a 300ml (or thereabouts) yixing with a generous but not over the top amount of leaves, and pour them into a big mug to drink. I suppose you can think of this as a cross between my usual brewing and a more English style, although brew times are short — under a minute at most, usually about 15-30s. The teas are obviously very high quality, especially sample 4. A nice depth and overall very fine fragrance, qi, and body. They are also quite long lasting — sample 4 I brewed for two days. Wikipedia says a joke for FTGFOP is “Far too good for ordinary people”. I can see why…. and I’d imagine this stuff doesn’t come too cheap.

Making tea lazily

I had two teas today, since I was rather busy and made tea in a cup, grandfather style, instead of doing my normal routine. The first I had was a Yunnan black of some sort — no labels, as is my bad habit. It’s one of those where there are a number of golden tips in the leaves, but they do not consist of the majority of the leaves. Most of the dry leaves are more blackish. Nice, mellow, a little sweet, robust…. a bit of that caramel Yunnan taste, and not a bad tea.

Then, later, I had an Assam. It looks quite similar to the Yunnan, with some golden flecks among the black leaves. Smells like Assam. I brewed it also in the same mug. Nice, mellow, a little sweet, robust…. not a bad tea.

Then I started wondering if it’s possible for me to identify these teas using the parameters I did (maybe 2-3g of tea in a 250ml? mug) without knowing beforehand what they are. I’m not entirely sure. The Assam certainly was a little more bitter, perhaps, but I think the difference is slight. I could detect Yunnan notes in the Yunnan black, but only just.

Which leads me to think that in some ways, all our gongfu brewing puts us in a very different mindset with regards to the teas we drink. Of course, the amount of leaves I put in my cup today was small, and so the nuances were subdued. Even after many minutes of brewing, however, their differences are not all that great, and will probably be even less if I didn’t know beforehand what they were.

That is of course a great argument for using gongfu style brewing — it gets the most out of your teas, and what might seem like quite similar stuff when brewed with two teaspoons of leaves for five minutes are probably going to be very different beasts when stuffed into a pot 1/5 full of leaves and brewed for five seconds. The great problem with gongfu brewing, as we all know, is space and time. Space, because it eats up a lot of real estate on a table. Instead of just a mug, you need at least a cup, a brewing vessel, and a water dispenser of some sort. Time, because it takes more attention to repeatedly add water than just adding it every once in a while.

There are, I think, ways of making that easier to do. One is to simply drink multiple infusions together. Instead of downing one cup and then adding water and repeating this process, which takes quite a bit of attention and time, it is possible, I think, to use a pot that is of largish size (say 300ml) and make two infusions of the tea drained into a largish mug that will then be consumed over the next 5, 10, or whatever minutes. When another cup of tea is desired, the process can be repeated. Still takes time, yes, and perhaps a walk to the water heater in the office, but I think it does cut down on the amount of attention it requires (and the strange stares from co-workers) significantly. That’s sort of what I do when I’m on the road traveling with a pot in a hotel room. Drinking infusion by infusion just takes too much effort in a sub-optimal space. Doing that, though, still gives some of the same benefits of gongfu brewing, and if you use the right kind of tea, it will last all day.

How do my dear readers make compromises in the office?