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Journal

Although we’ve been quiet on the blogosphere, there are a lot of things happening at Miro Tea, not least of which include a lot of cool events and fun changes around the store.  On the tea end, things have been exciting.  Our source in Taiwan has supplied us with a clutch of really impressive teas–both classic Taiwan oolongs as well as some very interesting and more unusual teas, some of which I’ve never even heard of before!  As we introduce the new teas to the staff, first impressions are as important as ever–to one of our more poetic team members, the fresh oolongs have become known as “new-longs!”  Over the next few weeks we’ll be featuring these on the blog with tasting notes and descriptions.  Of course, they’ll be available in the store by the cup and pot on our enduringly-popular seasonal oolong menu, and if you get in early enough you might be able to snag a few ounces to take home!

For starters, our Oxidized Buddha Hand oolong has been restocked, and this time it’s a winter harvest.  This was probably my favorite of the last batch of oolongs we received from Taiwan.  Buddha Hand (pinyin Fo Shou) oolong has personally intrigued me for quite a while with its enormous leaves and inimitable fruity notes.  This tea is quite a pleasure to drink because the higher oxidation (which tends to bring out fruity or generally sweet notes) has amplified the Buddha Palm cultivar’s natural flavor profile into a rich autumnal (forgive the strange word choice, but it just seems to fit the way this tea tastes) fruity-floral combination.  Compared with our “Green” Buddha Hand oolong (which, at the time of this writing, is still in stock), the body is a fair bit thicker.  Although this tea may not develop quite as much over repeated brews, the oxidized taste is endearing and so unlike most Taiwanese oolongs that it doesn’t really matter–it’s nice to just bask in the unique flavor.

Some tea leaves are called “big” because of their length, but the immensity of this cultivar’s leaves is really noticeable in the astounding breadth as shown by the gargantuan example above.  You can also see the bruised edges that have contributed to the oxidized nature of this oolong.  I’m excited that we get to prolong the magic of this tea by carrying another season’s harvest–we too often have to say “goodbye” to interesting teas too soon!

Stay tuned–we’ve got even more noteworthy teas on the horizon.  We’ll be continuing next post with our first green High Mountain Alishan Oolong in over a year.

Elliot

Today it’s my pleasure to introduce a very special tea we’ve recently begun serving at the store. Jeannie purchased this Chinese black tea at the end of 2007–three years ago! Until now it’s sat sealed in a faraway corner of Miro’s storage. Jeannie recently remembered the tea and upon trying some was pleasantly surprised. Not only had the quality of the tea not degraded during its storage, the astringency had mellowed considerably and the tea was actually much more pleasant to drink than it had been three years ago!


Unfortunately because of the time that’s elapsed we know little about this tea other than the fact that it’s a high-grade Chinese black–the large bags it was stored in have only generic tea labels and the words “Special Grade” handwritten by our wholesaler. So, in absence of a more accurate name, we’re calling it “China Vintage Special.” I recently took the opportunity to give this tea a try and was quite pleasantly surprised. I don’t drink a lot of black tea but always appreciate a complex tea no matter what genre it belongs to. As you can see above, this tea’s leaves are quite long and though there are some golden buds present, it’s nowhere near as tippy as our Yunnan Gold Fancy.


When you see this tea in the cup, it’s easy to understand why the Chinese call black tea “red” tea; they’re going off of the liquor color not the dry leaf color! Indeed, this tea is a deep amber red with a nice surface sheen but great clarity, to be expected from the leaf profile. The word that kept ringing in my head while tasting this tea was “clean;” there certainly is no excessive astringency, nor is there any muddiness or harshness of flavor that can often plague cheap black tea. The flavor is a balanced mix of both high, sweet notes and a lower, maltier, medium-bodied base. Compared with our other Chinese blacks, this tea’s certainly unique. The range of flavor and mouth sensation is much wider than that of our bassy Keemun; compared with Yunnan Gold, it’s a bit drier, less pungently sweet, and purer. Additionally, there’s a definite vibrant energy to this tea’s mouthfeel and finish that really reminded me of the experience of drinking fresh Chinese green tea.

Because it’s been aged a couple of years, I recommend brewing this tea just a little bit stronger to reawaken its complexity. As shown above, the leaves don’t open fully even after a full steeping–a sign that this tea will actually be good for a few tries or maybe even steeped gong fu style. Stop by and try this special tea soon–we’ve only got a limited quantity and it’s already proven popular with our more discriminating black tea drinkers!

Elliot

Welcome to 2009! To finish off the recent series of Wuyi Yen Cha posts, I’ve got tasting notes for our Rou Gui (which we call Wuyi Cassia). I’ll do my best to keep this post a little less long-winded than the Da Hong Pao tasting notes, but sometimes nerdy tea enthusiasm exceeds my restraint! As I mentioned in the introductory post, Rou Gui is both a “tea type” and a genetically unique cultivar of the tea plant. Although Rou Gui isn’t one of the four famous Wuyi oolong cultivars (known in Chinese as the Si Da Ming Cong–Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Lo Han and Bai Ji Guan), it is certainly one of the more common varieties and is often served at restaurants alongside Shui Xian as a popular table tea. In spite of its popularity, it’s still very much possible to find premium examples that stand up to elite gong fu grades of the Si Da Ming Cong.


The dry leaves aren’t too different in appearance from those of the Da Hong Pao–nice big, whole leaves. They’re perhaps a bit darker with a little more contrast between the frosting and leaf color. Smelling the leaves after the first infusion, I notice that the roast seems a bit more dominant than with the Da Hong Pao. Similarly to the other tea, though, the roast in the aroma diminishes after a couple of infusions. If I had to use one word to contrast this tea with the Da Hong Pao, I’d use “darker.” The heavier roast is immediately apparent, and the characteristic Rou Gui flavor takes slightly more effort to appreciate. It’s there, though–“Rou Gui” is often translated as cinnamon or cassia–as the roasting character diminishes over the 2nd and 3rd infusions, a delightfully dark spiciness emerges. This tea’s acidity is nowhere near as pronounced as the Da Hong Pao’s is, and the body tends to be a bit fuller as well. Later infusions produce a balanced but fading combination of roast and spice, with the expected astringency getting my mouth watering. Compared with the Da Hong Pao’s high and penetrating notes, this Rou Gui’s full, round and dark bottom makes for a pleasant contrast.


Examining the spent leaves shows some similarities with the Da Hong Pao–leaves alternate between very dark to slightly greener, but there are many large examples to be found. Our staff’s reaction has been split between these two teas–to me, that’s a sign that they’re both good! Personally, my tastes gravitate a bit toward the slightly lighter roast (you can see below that the Rou Gui’s leaves are more blistered than the Da Hong Pao’s), but the full body and darkness of the Rou Gui makes for an excellent and comforting winter warmer!


Elliot

At long last, I’m here to present tasting notes for our two new Wuyi Yen Cha. I started introducing this tea in an earlier post, so I’ll only add a bit more info with regards to its origins. As I mentioned in that earlier post, Da Hong Pao is both a “finished” tea type and a genetically unique cultivar of tea plant. However, the history and origins of the Da Hong Pao cultivar are labyrinthine and hotly-debated. Guang at Hou De Asian Art has written two extremely illuminating articles about the origins of the Da Hong Pao cultivar (Part 1, Part 2), so I won’t go too in depth regarding the history. Suffice to say that, yet again, there are plenty of tea merchants in China who are willing to pass off cheaper, often inferior Wuyi oolongs as “Da Hong Pao” and selling them to ill-informed customers at much higher prices than they deserve. This problem is compounded by the fact that many skilled Yen Cha tea masters have different opinions about which cultivar is proper for making a Da Hong Pao. This makes Da Hong Pao shopping very difficult for consumers, especially in the West. After trying as many “Da Hong Paos” as possible, I’m beginning to gain a modest understanding of Da Hong Pao’s unique flavor profile. To me, Da Hong Pao is typified by a fruity, floral flavor that comes across as very “high,” and acidic (i.e. lively and stimulating in the mouth). Of course, these characteristics can vary based on the innumerable other factors involved in processing, but the best Da Hong Paos I’ve tried all seemed to exhibit this flavor while the others tasted like overly-roasted generic Yen Cha. Outside of searching for Da Hong Pao’s unique flavor, choosing a good example is a matter of meeting the criteria that all Yen Cha should meet–balance between roasting and tea flavor, mouthfeel and body, and aftertaste.


Enough tea geeking–let’s move on to the task at hand: tasting our new Da Hong Pao! As you can see in the above picture, the leaves are large, complete, and dark in color with a light frosting. Large, complete leaves is a good sign–it means the tea has been handled with care and will be much more forgiving when brewing (broken leaves make strong, astringent and bitter tea much more easily). After loading up the gaiwan and pouring off the first quick infusion, the leaves smell incredible–the roast comes through first in the aroma, with a gentle, warm charcoal note which is followed (especially if you inhale deeply) by a pointed touch of flowers. As the infusions wear on, the roasted aroma backs off quite a bit–by the second and third infusions, the floral and caramel notes begin to rival and overpower the roasted ones. The flavor of the initial infusions is less dominated by the roast. At the first brief steep, it’s nice and light, with a bit of acidity edging in. Later, the acidity comes into its own, combining both aspects of fruit and flowers in a way that is unique to Da Hong Pao.

The final infusions begin to taper off in strength at just the right time–right when you’re ready for the tea to back off. As you can see in the picture the infused leaves are a sight to see! Even with multiple infusions, the leaves of a good Yen Cha will retain their stripe-rolled shape, never fully unfurling without help. The unfurled leaf on the left is MONSTROUS. By far the largest leaf I’ve found in so far in the entire batch–it measured 4 inches! Also of note is the difference in coloration–this tea’s heavy oxidation leaves some of the leaves greener while some take on a darker, brownish color. As you can see in the final picture of the gaiwan, by the end of a brewing session, the leaves are positively overflowing. In my experience, a lot of leaves is the best way to ensure a long session with a Yen Cha, but short steeps are a must. If you only want a couple of good steeps out of your tea, reducing the leaf weight and lengthening the infusion time will also provide very good results with this tea.


Finally, I’ll draw attention to this close-up picture of one unfurled leaf. In the macro picture (please excuse my camera’s quality) you’ll see some bubble-like blisters on the surface of the leaf. This sort of appearance is evidence of the tea’s roasting level–lighter-roasted Yen Cha will show pretty much no bubbles on the leaf surface, while “traditional” Yen Cha will sometimes be covered in such blisters. If flavor alone isn’t enough to accurately reveal to you the tea’s roast level, inspecting a nice whole leaf is usually pretty reliable. “Traditional,” (in the parlance of Wuyi Yen Cha) means heavy roasting. As I understand it, most Yen Cha used to be heavily roasted, and lighter and lighter roasts have only more recently come into fashion. Today, “tradional” connotes a high roast. If the tea’s good, though, you should be able to taste and smell much more than just charcoal without trying too hard! I would consider this Da Hong Pao to be a Traditional-style Yen Cha, though its firing wasn’t extreme. Hopefully sometime in the future we’ll be able to offer a lightly-baked Da Hong Pao–the difference can be very educational and can be illuminating for entry-level Yen Cha drinkers who might think all Wuyi oolongs taste the same! Stay tuned for tasting notes for our Wuyi Rou Gui and, more importantly, have a happy new year!


Elliot

This cute little mini-cake is 100 g, the same weight as a standard “bird’s nest” or tuo cha, and about 250 grams smaller than your average pu-erh bing. As the attractive wrapper (I love the texture and slight transparency of the paper) says, this tea was produced by Chang Tai factory to commemorate (Ji Nian) of the 2006 tea culture expo in Taipei, Taiwan. The Chang Tai blender reportedly blended this cake from the best of 150 loose pu-erh leaves provided by the factory, and the aim was to reproduce the characteristics of the legendary “Hun Tie” (iron cakes) from the 1950’s. While it’s difficult to imagine how a blender could know (much less reproduce) how the 1950’s cakes tasted and smelled when they were young, there’s no question that this is high-quality pu-erh.

It’s evident from viewing the exposed cake that it’s very well-compressed, which happens to be one of the defining characteristics of “iron” cakes. There’s a healthy proportion of buds on the surface, and also plenty of dark, juicy-looking leaves. One of the more difficult things about iron cakes and machine-molded cakes in general is that it’s more difficult to break into the cake for brewing without breaking or damaging all of the leaves. The fact that this is a mini cake compounds this difficulty, since it’s thinner and smaller than your average bing. Using a small pick meant for tuo chas with care, though, I was able to break the cake into relatively whole and manageable pieces, using an intact specimen for tasting. This pu-erh is so well-made that it’s a shame it’s only available in mini cake size; I’d love to own large cakes of this tea.

The aroma itself is a complex puzzle, shifting between thick, date-like fruit smells to intoxicating wet flowery notes. There’s no smokiness and no off or dirty smells, and the shifting nature of the aroma is a really good sign. I found the elements of the aroma variously popped up in the liquor, which complemented them with a hearty but subdued bitterness, a smooth finish, and a nice thick, viscous mouth feel. This isn’t arbor pu-erh, but it’s about as good as plantation pu-erh can hope to be. The only real drawback is the mini-cake form, which isn’t really necessarily a drawback; the small cakes are extremely affordable, especially for someone who’s interested in experimenting with aging pu-erh but doesn’t want to break the bank. The unfurled leaves are in pretty nice shape (provided you can get them free without breaking them)–some large examples for full body as well as healthy buds and fledgling leaves for light sweetness. As far as Chang Tai leaves are concerned, they’re much better than the average.

As with all of our pu-erhs, we’re offering this tea in 1 oz samples as well as in whole cakes, and both are 15% off through the end of November, making this cake an even better deal.

Elliot

This 400 gram cake is one of the older cakes we offer at Miro, and tasting it soon after tasting 2007 and 2006 cakes makes its slight aging very apparent. Chang Tai used to be a pretty small factory but upgraded to a substantially larger “Manufacturing Group” in 2005. Still, its product rivals and often bests many of the huge, well-known pu-erh factories like Menghai and Xiaguan, especially in the “wild leaves” department. This cake makes no claims about being exclusively old growth, but it does contain a healthy proportion of semi-wild “old plantation” leaves from Yi Wu mountain (hence the name, “Yi Wu Original Peak”).

Like the 2006 Chen Guang-Ho Tang cake, this cake is stone-molded. Here, though, it’s even more apparent; as you can see in the picture, the edges of the cake are pretty loose, and leaves are already coming off without any effort. Smelling and visually observing the cake, the four years of aging are very apparent to me–more so than the liquor will eventually reveal. I can already smell that “forest floor” camphor and earthy musk that is evidenced so well by well-aged pu-erhs, which means this cake is on the right track for some future delicious aged sheng pu-erh. You can also notice the slight changes that have taken place in the leaves’ appearance; they’re a bit darker, and many of the buds have changed to a slightly more golden hue.

Taste-wise, this tea reveals its age less. The liquor is a dark gold, though, and its aroma is full of rich, woody, earthy pu-erh character. With a sip from the first infusion, it’s apparent that the tea exhibited a slight smokiness when it was newborn, but it’s swiftly retreating and is absent from later infusions–good news that this tea won’t be one that still tastes like smoke when it’s over 10 years old! There is still a formidable bitterness in this tea’s finish, but the aftertaste develops sweetness with every breath. There’s a lot of debate about which ages better–strong pu-erh or subtle, complex pu-erh–and if you’re of the “strong” persuasion, this one is certainly a contender for a good aging choice. I’m of the belief that both types of tea have plenty of potential, though they’ll very likely produce aged pu-erhs with very different temperaments. Surely, though, abundance and strength of flavor in a young pu-erh is unlikely to disappear over the years and result in a weak aged pu-erh. Either way, this tea fulfills a couple important criteria for pu-erh aging potential: 1) It’s complex enough to be appreciated now, despite its acceptable “young” characteristics, so it will likely be complex as an aged tea. 2) It already shows signs of aging, which means that it should continue on the promising path it’s on if properly stored.

The brewed leaves of this tea reveal something about Chang Tai’s method that seems to happen with many of their teas–many of the leaves are fragmented or broken, with sometimes tattered edges. This may partially account for the tea’s powerful taste, and time may prove that the aged flavor of these cakes will be enhanced by the added strength this imparts. Next up in the tasting note series is another Chang Tai offering.


Elliot

November is over half over and I’ve yet to announce the tea of the month to our online audience. We’re celebrating pu-erh tea this month. All of the usual benefits apply–we’ve got informational handouts and samples in the store, and all of our pu-erh stock is 15% off for the month. If you’re unfamiliar with pu-erh, you can check out the rather lengthy introductory article I compiled in May. A Google or Wikipedia search will also deliver some good results–pu-erh is becoming quite a craze in the West (it’s been extremely popular in Asia for at least 10 years though) and there are a lot of enthusiastic bloggers and hobbyists online. In a market saturated by the mediocre, cheaply-made pu-erh that has become commonplace since pu-erh’s recent surge in popularity, we’re happy to offer several choices that don’t have much trouble distinguishing themselves from your average teas! I’ll hopefully be able to present several of our pu-erh choices before the month is over, starting with this 2007 Xi-Zhi Hao 8582 sheng (raw pu-erh) cake.

Xi-Zhi Hao (Double Happiness) is a premium pu-erh line produced by San Ho Tang pu-erh factory. The owner, Mr. Chen, began researching the historical pu-erh production methods in the 1990’s and began producing his own pu-erh at the end of the decade. Today, Xi-Zhi Hao stands as some of the highest-end (quality-wise and price-wise) pu-erh available on the market. Essentially what makes this type of tea high-end is the leaves–since the late 90’s there has been a surge of interest from pu-erh collectors and producers in using “ancient,” “wild,” “arbor” or “tree” pu-erh leaves (as opposed to plantation leaves, which can vary in quality). These leaves come from either completely wild tea plants or from plants that were once cultivated but have grown wild for decades. Generally the plants are very large (more tree-like than bush-like), and the leaves are sized to match; vigorous, bold and healthy-looking, with bold but complex flavor and high propensity for successful aging. Leaves of this type come from very specific (usually mountainous, like “Yiwu,” for example) areas in Yunnan province, China, and there are only so many leaves to go around (hence the high price tag). Manufacturers will often label their tea cakes with these words when they only have a small percentage of the old, famous-mountain leaves, but the Xi-Zhi Hao brand has a good reputation for quality and reliability with their “ancient tree” pu-erhs. In addition to their heralded super-premium pu-erhs, they have also produced some outstanding upper-mid-level pu-erhs. This cake falls into that category–high quality leaves which are mostly from plantations around Menghai county. The title “8582” refers to the classic Menghai Tea Factory blend recipe, which was provided to Xi-Zhi Hao by an ex-Menghai factory master blender. Menghai has been a quality-standard pu-erh brand for decades, and this blend (“85” for 1985, when the recipe was invented, “8” for the “level” or “grade” of leaves used, and “2” meaning Menghai Tea factory) is designed to recapture the pu-erh quality that existed when this recipe was new.

You can see in this picture that the cake is composed of nice-looking whole leaves, and there are plenty of silvery buds visible on the surface, which lets you know that this should be a pretty sweet-tasting pu-erh. Since the cake is very young, there is plenty of contrast between the buds and leaves. This will change in a few years as the buds gain a more golden coloration. The cake is well-compressed; not as tightly as an “iron cake”-styled pu-erh, and not as loosely as a traditionally stone-molded cake. Just opening the wrapper, the aroma floats gracefully out and fills the room.

For tasting, I gently pried off a small chunk (the fewer broken leaves, the mellower and less harsh the tea will brew). 3.8g in a 100ml teapot, with a 20 second rinse to open the leaves up a bit. After that, it was 30-20-30-40-60. Not overly methodical for gong fu brewing, but good enough to catch some of this tea’s intricacies. This is a spring-harvested tea, and it tastes that way. It’s simply brimming with energy–after a rinse and first infusion, the aroma really dominated our tasting area. Floral, fruity and slightly woody/earthy tones permeate the complex aroma, and depending on when and how deeply you inhale, it can change completely. The liquor is a deep golden color with good clarity. Flavor-wise, this tea has multiple strengths. First is complexity: all of the elements from the aroma are present in the liquor, as is a potent sweetness. Second is hui gan, or “returning aftertaste.” The sweet finish pervades long after the tea is gone, which is a very desirable characteristic in a pu-erh. Also notable are a couple absent aspects: smokiness–commonplace among low-end pu-erhs–is virtually zero, which means this pu-erh was processed very carefully, with delicate care during the firing, drying and steaming processes. The other characteristic–bitterness–is somewhat muted and mostly transforms to sweetness in the aftertaste. Bitterness in a young sheng pu-erh is almost universal and is not regarded as a flaw, and it’s nice to see that it fits comfortably among this pu-erh’s other attributes.

Having tasted some of Xi-Zhi Hao’s single-region pu-erhs, I can say that this 8582 recipe cake could be described as less refined, but to me it’s also somewhat more interesting–rather than leaves with uniform character, this cake is a blend of different-sized and styled leaves (see the picture below for more evidence of this), which gives it a shifting, active, dynamic, even clamourous(!) complexity that isn’t necessarily present in the super-premium cakes. For personal drinking I’d probably use more leaves, but not too much more–this cake can be extremely potent and aggressive if you use too many leaves (partly because it’s a spring, plantation cake and partly because it’s so young), and I think it tastes best and most complex when it’s toned to a more light, floral and ethereal tea like I cupped it today. I’m very excited for this cake’s aging potential; the original 8582 Menghai cakes are tasting really good these days, and I can see this cake’s complexity becoming really nice as it mellows out a bit. We have this cake available for in-store drinking as well as bulk–1 oz samples or entire 400 gram cakes. With all pu-erh stock 15% off for the month, now is a great time to snag one. Stay tuned for more tasting notes!

Elliot

As I mentioned in the last entry, in the world of Chinese white tea, there are really two primary types of white tea: Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan. Since the processing methods (extended withering) are very similar, the main difference between these two teas is which leaves are selected during plucking.

Bai Hao Yin Zhen means “White Hair Silver Needle.” The name describes the soft, white down that covers the buds of the tea plant. Many tea drinkers are familiar with Silver Needle tea, which is the classic white tea–it’s produced from large, fat tea buds only, which makes it the more expensive of the two white teas. Of course, there are variations in quality between grades of Silver Needle–generally, the larger the buds the better, and the bud should appear green underneath the down as a sign of freshness. Silver Needle has an extremely delicate flavor–like some of our premium Chinese green teas, its flavor will blossom in your mouth a few seconds after sipping, and the aftertaste will continue long after the tea has been swallowed. The flavor is naturally sweet (thanks to the extended withering process), and good Silver Needle tastes to me of fresh hay and honeysuckle–if it’s fresh, it also has delicate beany notes. If a Silver Needle tastes smoky, overly nutty, or fishy, it’s likely old and has been re-roasted or it had flaws in the initial production. Like most bud-based teas, the best Silver Needle harvests occur in the spring, when the plants put on the most buds.


Bai Mu Dan means “White Peony.” Unlike Silver Needle, White Peony is produced from leaf selections that include the bud and the first two leaves. Although the finished leaves tend to be a bit brittle, you can still usually find a few complete leaf sets. The leaves are a pleasure to look at–the leaves are bright green on one side and brown on the other, and the buds, though not as large as those in Silver Needle, are nice and plump. Because fewer buds are used, White Peony is cheaper and often considered an everyday white tea. The inclusion of leaves makes the body quite a bit more robust (and the liquor darker) than the Silver Needles’, and the flavor is bolder as well. I think White Peony tastes earthy but sweet, and it’s easy to draw a connection between its flavor and Silver Needles’. If it’s a nice fresh grade, you’ll also notice a nice bean- or pea-like sweetness that lingers especially along the aftertaste.


You may come across a large number of white teas with different names, but they’re generally lower grade than these classic teas and less widely-known. We’ve seen our fair share of “other” white teas at Miro Tea; they generally exhibit some of the flaws I mentioned earlier, and though their names may differ, if you look closely, they’re usually of the same appearance as Silver Needle or White Peony, or a combination thereof, which only serves to reinforce the assertion that there are two primary Chinese white tea types!

Elliot

The final major tea-producing region of India is Nilgiri. Unlike Assam and Darjeeling teas, which are both grown in the North-Eastern arm of India, Nilgiri tea is grown in the South-Eastern point in the hills of the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu province. The history of tea in the Nilgiris district is somewhat less robust in comparison with that of Assam and Darjeeling, but the region is indisputably important to India’s tea production and the teas produced there retain a range of recognizably “Nilgiri” flavor characteristics. At least half of all tea grown in Nilgiri is exported, and the vast majority of tea is grown by small farms and sold to separately-owned factories for processing. Nilgiri tea’s highland-grown leaves produce dark amber liquor and characteristics that are roughly describable as between those of Assam and Darjeeling.

We carry two Nilgiri blacks at Miro Tea; I chose our Corsley Estate Nilgiri–like both Darjeelings and Assams, each Nilgiri is usually named for the estate of its origin. As you can see in the picture, this tea has the largest, most complete leaves of the three teas featured so far. A larger leaf profile is generally referred to as “Orange Pekoe” (pronounced peck-oh), usually abbreviated OP, or BOP if the leaves are more “Broken.” A piece of leaf stem is also visible in the dry leaves–the occasional by-product of machine processing and sorting.

After I added hot water to the leaves, a powerful woody, honey-like aroma emerged from the cup. Tasting the liquor, I found a very comforting blend of honey sweetness (reminiscent very much of honey’s distinct flavor, as opposed to the experience of consuming honey) and a mellow, fleeting plum-like overtone. My overall instinct was to contrast this tea with the Satrupa Marangi Assam–this Nilgiri posesses a thinner liquor with a lighter mouth feel, none of the sharp notes of the Assam (much more rounded), and a noticeable drop in complexity. I also noticed that the tea’s aftertaste was really present on the breath, but wasn’t nearly as lasting as that of the Darjeeling I tasted, disappearing quickly until being renewed by another sip. This is a really pleasing tea to drink, but doesn’t really posses the kind of depth that necessitates close attention. These characteristics make Nilgiris great morning and everyday teas, because they’re always pleasant and won’t be spoiled if you have to concentrate on something else while you’re drinking them. Tney also make excellent iced teas–the round, malty sweetness of black tea, without the potential harshness that can be found in Assams makes for perfect iced tea.

Elliot

How time flies! Sometimes we get so busy taking care of store business that I have trouble finding time to keep up my promised blog entries before they’re overdue! Though they could have been more evenly-spaced throughout the month, today I’ll present Darjeeling and Nilgiri Indian Black Teas to finish (just under the wire) our celebration of Indian black teas.

Many people have at least heard the word “Darjeeling,” even if they haven’t tried Darjeeling’s world-famous teas. Darjeelings have been the subject of many mildly specious metaphors, such as “the champagne of teas,” or the “connoisseur’s black tea.” The fact is: tea is not wine, but Darjeeling black tea is an utterly unique tea genre that is certainly worthy of observant appreciation and the international renown it has generated. Like Assam teas, Darjeelings were first cultivated in the mid-1800’s by British expatriates. However, the similarities end there: Unlike Assams, Darjeelings are grown in the mountains of West Bengal province, and the tea plants used originated in China. Because of this combination, Darjeelings tend to be much lighter in body and complex in flavor than the lowland-grown Assam teas.

Darjeelings are also unique because of their leaf appearance–rather than a more or less uniformly black coloration, Darjeelings often contain a number of silver and green leaves, due to the “not-quite-full” oxidation that the leaves receive during processing, which surely contributes to their lightness and complexity when brewed. Darjeeling teas are produced by tea gardens known as “estates,” and the name of a particular Darjeeling is almost always the name of the estate. Following the estate name is usually an indicator of which “flush” the tea is–that is, when the tea was harvested. Generally, there are three primary harvests–First flush (produced in March at the end of the rains), Second Flush (produced during June), and Autumn Flush (produced–you guessed it–in autumn, after the second rain season). Flavor-wise, the flushes go from lightest, subtlest and most delicate to darker, fuller-bodied, and less delicate as time progresses, and earlier-harvested teas are usually less expensive. Really, though, it’s all a matter of taste–I tend to prefer Second Flush Darjeelings, even though they may not get the most attention.

The tea I chose for tasting is our new Makaibari Estate First Flush. The above picture demonstrates well the beautiful, varied appearance of the leaves. I steeped this one for 2.5 minutes using 190º water–I find a lower temperature of water produces a more subtle cup when it comes to Darjeeling, and too long of a steeping time will bring out a biting bitterness. The first sensation I experienced when drinking this tea was warming–I felt heat rush to my mouth and throat as soon as the tea touched my lips. After swallowing, I noticed a slight, pleasant bitterness in the back of my mouth, as well as an astringency that I often find in First Flush Darjeelings. The wet leaves (you can see in the picture that they’ve retained their varied coloration, unlike the Satrupa Marangi’s fully-oxidized golden buds) put off an inviting aroma of sweet leather and blackberries, and the tea’s liquor translates these aromas into a gentle, sweet-and-dry berry flavor and a much more subdued showing of that leathery characteristic. It’s also important to note that most true Darjeelings (Darjeelings, like most famous tea types are often faked!) share a similar flavor profile, dubbed “muscatel” by Darjeeling fans. The word is borrowed from wine tasting. Although I’m slightly unconvinced that there’s a strong connection between wine’s flavor profile and Darjeeling teas’, I’m absolutely sure that the so-called “muscatel” flavor is a primary draw for Darjeelings inasmuch as it’s unique and inviting in its complexity. The final characteristic that strikes me about this tea is its lingering aftertaste, which really didn’t occur with the other two Indian blacks I tried.

We carry two First Flush Darjeelings and one each of Second and Autumn Flushes, so if you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and see for yourself what makes these teas so special!

Elliot

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