Saturday, November 26, 2005

Overachieving penny-a-gram Chinatown hong cha

Ah, weekday breakfast. Slowly greeting the day, meditating on the important things, the things that endure, one of which is the subtle emanations of that superb tea brewing in that Ming dynasty gaiwan!

What do you say? That isn't what goes on in your house? Well, not in mine, either.

Which is one of the most important reasons why I periodically browse the supermarkets of New York's Chinatown for cheap teas.

This one is Yingde Hong Cha, a black tea from Yingde county of Guangdong province. (You won't find any English other than "BLACK TEA" on the package, nor Pinyin, so I've provided a picture.)

Straight out of the box and brewed with boiling water for four minutes, 4g to 10 oz, the cup aroma was equivocal: its basic character was that of a chocolaty congou, but not a really good one, or maybe a weaker second steep. Also, there was a slight sourness I associate with CTC teas, probably because they decay faster due to their geometry. (The box has a well sealed foil inner package inside, but who knows how long it sat on the shelf?) The taste echoed the aroma: Keemunesque but not like a top quality Keemun, no astringency, with a slight sourness.

So I roasted some of the tea lightly: five minutes at 250F in a toaster oven, allowing it to cool in the oven. Now the sourness is gone from nose and mouth. The basic character is still that of a congou with a chocolaty aroma, taste, and a suprisingly long finish. It's about what you would hope for from a mid-price China black from, say, Upton. Breakfast, in other words, at least at our place.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Silk Road Teas Keemun (B-KM-2)

Over the years, I've probably ordered this tea about once a year. Some years it's been memorable, others not, but I figure it'll always at least be good enough for breakfast.

This appears to be one of the good years.

I brewed it with 4g of leaf to 10 oz boiling water, giving it 4-1/2 minutes. The cup aroma was winey and chocolaty, rich and penetrating. The taste was deeply chocolaty with a fruity/winey component and the slightest bitterness for balance. The finish was drier, more like powdered than bar chocolate, and hung on for a satisfying time in both mouth and nose.

As I type this, I'm enjoying a second steep at six minutes, though nothing about it matches the intensity of the first steep.

Not only that, the record will show that my brother the Keemunist rates this as one of the two best he's ever tasted. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but this one performs above its class and price range.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tea excellence and gongfu cha skills

The other day, Teaparker, my tea master, told us how he traveled with a friend to China to buy tea. They met a tea merchant and Teaparker helped him identify a good tea, thanks to his nose and experience. To be 100% sure, they did what you always do when buying a bigger quantity: they also brewed a pot (or gaiwan) with a small sample of the tea. But instead of letting the merchant do this, the friend asked Teaparker to brew the tea. He brewed it perfectly. The tea was indeed delicious. The merchant himself had no idea his tea could taste so good! This had an uninteded consequence, though: the merchant refused to grant any discount on the price of the tea (which is very unusual when you buy in bulk), because Teaparker's gongfu had revealed to him the true quality of the leaves. The friend was almost angry with Teaparker and told him: "Next time, brew the tea (bad) so that I can buy it cheaper!"

This example shows the importance of proper brewing to enjoy good tea. So, I may have been too impatient in my impulse of sharing 2 excellent teas with a few of you. It seems not all of you have tasted and enjoyed them as such. Without proper knowledge and pratice of gongfu cha, you may have brewed these 2 teas like the merchant and not realize how good they are. That's why I have written a series of 6 gongfu lessons in my blog. They are the first 6 links on this page.

I hope you'll find them useful and wish you a nice journey on the Cha Dao!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Anodyne on Imperial Gold Yunnan

I have a small pot of tea before me, brewed from the dangerously dwindling small canister of Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Gold Yunnan. The aroma from the cup this morning has so many layers. It's rather like dropping a mocha brown colored silk scarf (with subtle patterns threaded through in gold) on the bed and watching it fold in upon itself, then picking it up again and watching the folds smooth out and reveal the full design. Malt, floral, spice, hint of maple, earth, cedar. Some of those aromatic notes reveal themselves in the cup itself today, some more in the aftertaste, and some are more aromatic than taste. The dry leaf aroma today struck me as being very akin to Swiss milk chocolate. It is a perfectly luxurious tea for this snowy morning in November in which the room is permeated by the aroma of sweet potato biscuits baking. They are perfect when eaten warm from the oven, slathered with butter and a drizzle of oak honey. The honey has a smooth molasses note but not the pungent bark-like 'tang' of chestnut honey. The combination of honey, sweet potato biscuit, and this Imperial Gold Yunnan is a rather voluptuous combination of aroma, taste, texture.

from 3/05: I am reminded of why Imperial Tea Court's Imperial Yunnan Gold so often climbs to the top of the Yunnan heap. Two of us are sharing a pot this morning and, even amidst distractions, this tea manages to get your attention. Not by talking too loudly or being flamboyant. This is the soft-spoken person you still manage to hear clear across the room because what they are talking about carries such weight or because what they are speaking seems so close to poetry.

This tea is refined. It is very much what I think of as a 'package deal' type tea, in that it is beautiful in the dry leaf (such tiny leaf buds) all the way through--appearance, taste, aroma, body. This morning it is showing those beautiful soft mocha-like aromatics. Hints of milk chocolate (which is why it snuggled up so well to that Swiss Milk Chocolate we tried with it a few nights ago). Then a shapeshifting hint of spice and floral. And then finally the spicy note decides to mingle with the sweet honeyed aromatics. This tea's aroma has layers to explore. The cup is malty with some light sweetness.

We had a nip (or two) of French lavender honey spread on an English muffin, and that honey's flavor seemed quite a close cousin to the honey-spice-floral aromatics in the tea at one point. As the tea cools, that kinship is even more pronounced. The honey notes in the tea move from being associated with the honey to the floral, and bingo--lavender honey!

The tea isn't inexpensive, but unlike many pricey Yunnan teas, you can *smell* and *taste* why this one actually might warrant a higher price.