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Journal

This December, our “tea” type of the month is botanicals. What are botanicals, you ask? I’ll tell you what! Most likely, you’re actually already familiar with botanicals under a different name–“herbal tea,” or perhaps “tisanes.” The term refers to any infused beverage not made from the tea (Camellia sinensis) plant. Since “tea” specifically means Camellia sinensis, it’s incorrect to call an herbal or floral infusion “tea.” Additionally, not all non-tea infusions are “herbs,” so “botanicals” makes a perfect all-encompassing name. Most botanicals are naturally caffeine-free, with the exception of yerba mate. Like our past featured teas, botanicals will get the royal treatment for the entire month:

  • 15% off all botanical beverages and bulk purchases in-store.
  • Clearance botanicals can be found in our sale section.
  • An informational handout regarding the definitions of, preparation of, and potential health benefits of botanicals are available to take home.

Botanicals are not only a great replacement for hot caffeinated tea on these cold December days, they also make excellent additions to your favorite teas–a sprinkle of lemongrass or lavender can give your favorite breakfast blend an added kick, and we’ve got a nice selection of unblended botanicals for just that purpose!

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

The second pu-erh to be featured in November’s celebration of pu-erh tea, this sheng (raw, or uncooked) pu-erh is an excellent tea to contrast against the 2007 Xi-Zhi Hao 8582 cake from the last entry. This is primarily because the 8582 cake is a spring production and this “Yi Wu Yeh Cha” is fall-harvested. Whereas the XZH 8582 is a lively, energetic and potentially fierce tea, this pu-erh is mellow, round and a fair bit more difficult to over-brew.

Chen Guang-Ho Tang is a relatively small pu-erh production group that has been around since the late 90’s. It’s comparable to Xi-Zhi Hao insofar as they both provide premium, often ancient tree and famous mountain pu-erh, though Xi-Zhi Hao probably has the edge in terms of prestige and reputation since they put out some of the most exclusive and super-premium pu-erh available. This tea comes from one of the most famous mountains in Yunnan, China’s pu-erh-producing province–Yiwu or Yi Wu Mountain. As a side note, since famous-mountain pu-erh leaves are in such high demamd, some less scrupulous pu-erh manufacturers will sometimes label their cakes “Yi Wu” or “Lao Ban Zhan” when only a small percentage of the leaves (if any) came from said mountain. One of the better aspects about premium producers like Chen Guang-Ho Tang and Xi-Zhi Hao is that they have excellent street cred when it comes to the accuracy of their tea leaves’ origins. Regardless, taste will always be the deciding factor–with even a limited amount of experience, it can be relatively easy to pick out the harshness, lack of complexity, and lower durability of plantation leaves that dominate so-called “famous mountain” cakes. This cake’s inner ticket declares that the leaves are a blend of three different Yi Wu regions, so we can expect varied characteristics, but (hopefully) a common denominator of big, healthy-looking leaves and buds and not too much harshness.

Gong fu brewing of this pu-erh reveals a somewhat rare experience in young sheng pu-erh: a tea that’s actually enjoyable to drink when it’s young. At two years old, this tea hasn’t had much time to age. Nevertheless, it’s full of dark, dried fruit, woody and mushroomy flavors along with hints of that characteristic earthy character that is present in even the most flowery young shengs. There’s no smokiness whatsoever and the bitterness is slight and it blends well with the tea’s other characteristics. The body is full with little astringency, though there is room for aging improvement in its smoothness. Compared to the XZH 8582 cake, this autumn production is rounder, mellower and darker, with few of the high and potentially piercing notes of the spring cake. Both are unmistakably young pu-erhs, though, which makes comparing them an excellent and instructive exercise in the difference between spring and autumn pu-erh leaves, which both seem to have very particular strengths.

The spent leaves of this cake seem to confirm their origin–there are few broken or ragged leaves and plenty of complete leaf sets with large, strong-looking veins and thick but not brittle stems. It’s also worth noting that this cake is stone-molded, which is different but not necessarily better than the modern process of machine-molding. Stone-molded cakes tend to be more irregularly-shaped than machine-molded ones, and they also tend to be compressed more loosely, which can lead to faster aging (because the inner leaves have more exposed surface area). Overall, tasting these two cakes is an exciting endeavor, especially when contemplating what will happen to the flavors of each as the cakes slowly age.

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

Even if I didn’t have a calendar, I think I’d probably still know that summer is fading into memory and fall is upon us–if only from how chilly my hands get on my morning bike ride to Miro Tea! As we’ve been trying to do on a monthly basis, the beginning of October marks the beginning of a tea feature; this month it’s White Tea, an ideal choice for sipping during the quiet moments of a crisp, sunny fall afternoon (which we’ll hopefully get a few of this October!).

I’m excited to feature white tea for a number of reasons–white tea’s recent surge in popularity has really catapulted it into the general public’s consciousness. From Snapple and other “ready to drink” beverages to vitamin supplements, white tea is being touted for its health benefits, and is often described as “better than green tea.” So, with white tea’s rising popularity, it’s a great opportunity to expose curious people to premium white teas, so they can see the best of what this tea type has to offer. Also, this month will be a great opportunity to clear up some of the misinformation that has come along with white tea’s popularity–look for a few short articles regarding caffeine, health benefits, and processing.

As usual, we’ve got a few features going to celebrate white tea:

  • 15% off white tea by the cup or pot, as well as bulk
  • We’ve got a few white teas in our clearance area, including some seldom-seen Darjeeling white teas–not to be missed by both adventurous white tea fans and Darjeeling fanatics
  • We’ll be cupping on request, side by side, Bai Hao Silver Needle and White Peony, the two classic white tea types.
  • General white tea information (including upcoming articles) will be condensed in take-home handouts available in Miro Tea.

Be on the lookout for the next couple of informational articles, and try a cup of white tea!

Elliot

Top to Bottom, Organic Yellow Mt. Mao Feng, Organic Taiping Monkey King, Liu An Melon Seed, 3 fresh 2008 teas featured this month at Miro.

Now that June’s over, we get to bid Rooibos month a tearful farewell at Miro Tea and welcome in July–Chinese Green Tea Month! Much like June’s rooibos events and specials, we’ll be showcasing our Chinese green tea selection all July. The freshest and tastiest spring harvest green teas are en route to our store from China, and we’re excited to start sharing them with you, our customers! We also have a few special additions to our program this month!

  • All Chinese green teas (including bulk) will be discounted 15%!
  • Informational handouts will be available in-store that fill in some important and general information about China’s illustrious green tea and its history.
  • This blog will feature more in-depth posts about Chinese green tea, including detailed tasting notes for our premium new teas.
  • Our store clearance area will feature some seriously great deals–Chinese Green and Yellow teas will be available at 50% off–2 oz for the price of 1!
  • Finally, and most excitingly, July is the first month that we’ll be conducting in-store tea workshops! I’ll post dates, times and other relevant information when it’s all confirmed, but as for now I can say that we’ll be conducting regular Tea 101 introductory classes, as well as guided tastings on our new premium Chinese greens–it’ll be a great way to explore a large number of teas in small amounts with guidance from yours truly.

Chinese green tea is one of my very favorite tea types, and I’m really excited to start sharing the outstanding quality, diverse flavors, and all-around experience that they offer. Check back soon for more updates!

Elliot

Many people are well-acquainted with that most classic of summer beverages–the Arnold Palmer. Named after golf legend Arnold Palmer, it’s a textbook example of what happens when you combine two tasty summer beverages (iced tea and lemonade); pure, unadulterated
deliciousness. At Miro Tea, we call the Arnold Palmer the “Arnie,” and in celebration of Rooibos Month, we’ve put a new spin on this classic thirst-quencher: the “Ernie!”

This mouth-watering iced tea fusion combines Rooibos–the South African red bush–with lemonade and just a touch of honey water for an added boost. It’s extra thirst-quenching because rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, and it’s on sale at a special promotional price of $2.75 for the month of June. Best yet, it’s named after another famous golfer–Ernie Els–who hails from the same country as rooibos! It was meant to be…

Elliot


This June at Miro Tea, we’re celebrating Rooibos, the South African red bush. Although it’s not a true “tea” (rooibos comes from the Aspalathus linearis plant, not the Camellia sinensis), this special bush produces delicious, world-famous beverage when infused in hot water. To celebrate rooibos month, we at Miro Tea have a few events planned:

  • All rooibos beverages and loose leaf bulk purchases get a 15% discount!
  • We’re offering free samples of loose rooibos for customers to try at home!
  • We’ll be serving “The Ernie,” a special iced rooibos beverage (to be introduced next entry), all month!
  • Informational rooibos handouts are available at the store, and I’ll be posting informational articles about rooibos’ processing and health benefits as well.

If you’ve never tried rooibos, you’ve been missing out on quite a treat. June is the perfect month to enjoy this naturally caffeine-free, healthy beverage–it’s delicious both hot and iced.

If you haven’t already, check out this earlier post about the origin of rooibos as a cultivated crop.

More to come…

Elliot