As of 11 March 2014, my humans and I are no longer accepting tea samples. Too many tea companies focus on politics instead of tea and are often supporting things that we find injurious. We are now switching to a more information focused blog, telling you not just about the teas we are steeping but about the people and places responsible for them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tea Stories: What’s New from Giddapahar Tea Garden (and now available at JAS-eTea)

Big Flavor from “The Smallest Tea Garden in Darjeeling”

There’s always something new in the world of tea. Each flush (period of growth and then harvest) is different depending on the weather and other factors. Each year the plants are older, which can be good or bad. Each garden has its own issues to deal with, including that aforementioned weather. And they are constantly striving to produce teas that are better than the previous ones and than their competitors. And often they are just so dedicated to crafting great teas that they devote a lot of time and energy to them and to developing particular tea plants. So it is with this special tea from the Giddapahar Tea Garden.

Full name: Giddapahar Limited-Edition Hand-Rolled Darjeeling 2014 Second Flush Tea. It’s a new offering from JAS-eTea and brings together the China jats grown at this garden with the ones made into all the fine pu-erhs that vendor now offers. I enlisted Li’l Steeper Cup to steep it up.

As usual, I made sure my humans took in the sight and aroma of the dry leaves. The first thing to note is their size (the leaves, not my humans – ba dum bum!). They are a clonal tea plant called AV2 (not a very exciting name, but unimportant – we focus on the quality of those leaves). The aroma was Muscatel (grape-like) with a touch of honey.

Large AV2 Clonal leaves
Compare the leaves above to these below, also a clonal but much smaller.

Smaller leaves of the Giddapahar
Autumn Flush from 2010
We decided to go gentle with this tea, using a water temperature of 185°F. Li’l Steeper Cup holds about 6 ounces of water so we used the amount of AV2 tea leaves shown above. We infused 3 times, going 2 minutes the first time and adding 15 seconds to the next two. The lower temperature and shorter steeping time gave us a lighter flavor than some reviewers have reported. My humans didn’t want the delicate Muscatel character obliterated, yet they did want to pull enough of the flavors out of the leaves. I think they had a nice balance. The 3rd infusion even had a touch of sweetness in the aftertaste.

Wanted to show you a close-up of the leaves after the final infusion:

And here are a few spread out:

And we thought you’d like to compare them with the infused leaves of that other version from Giddapahar:

The leaves of the Giddapahar Autumn Flush
from 2010 after infusing
When the formal tryout of this tea was done, I got together with one of my teacup girlfriends for a bit of a tea party. I steeped up some more of that tea. She seemed very pleased with it. Tasty tea is good for my love life. TOOOOT!

About the Giddapahar Tea Garden

The garden is on a mountain a short drive from the town of Kurseong (in fact, you can see the town from the garden). It is in the geographic area designated as an official Darjeeling tea growing area. The Singh family has operated this garden since it’s founding in 1881 and live in a house not far from their small factory. The mountain is steep sloped and often shrouded in mist, and the temperatures tend to be cooler. The garden is around 4,864 feet elevation. Their production is less than many of the more well-known gardens in that special geographic area. They grow only China jats (cultivar of the tea plant Camellia sinensis).

Giddapahar Tea Garden map shown below is a still capture from the full map here: Darjeeling Garden Map on Blog.

Always nice to try something new in the world of tea!

Where to buy: Giddapahar Limited-Edition Hand-Rolled Darjeeling 2014 Second Flush Tea.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective. Information on where to buy is presented as a courtesy only.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text – All rights reserved. No copying, posting on other sites, or other uses allowed without written permission of the copyright holder.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Tea Stories: What Is a Yongde Pu-erh? (featuring a fine example from JAS-eTea)

One of the keys to understanding complicated subjects is to take things a step at a time. So when we began this whole tea sampling thing, we were faced with some names a mile long, at least as measured by this little teapot. By breaking down the names into their components, we found that they were chockfull of information. So it is with this tea: Yongde 2010 First Grade Ripe Pu-erh (Medium fermented) from our friends at JAS-eTea. We began with that first word – “Yongde” – and it started us on a virtual journey around the globe. Take a trip with us to see the story behind this tasty tea. TOOOT!

Me and “Tiny” and that tasty tea!

About Yongde

Yongde (永德县; pinyin: Yǒngdé Xiàn) is the name of a very small county located in Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan province, China. It is in the southwest part of the country and is rather mountainous. Few people have heard of it or been there, but it has the most resources of ancient tea trees in China. This tea comes from growers in that area and is part of the annual acquisition expedition by one of the vendor’s sources. The area is full of a lot of natural beauty, including Yongde Snow Mountain Nature reserve, but the residents are still able to make use of those natural resources for their incomes and personal needs. Tea is one of them, in fact, large areas of wild ancient tea trees were discovered. One source says they found:
  • 250,000-300,000 tea trees more than 40cm around;
  • 50,000-100,000 tea trees that are 80-200cm around; and
  • 1,000 or more tea trees that are said to be over a millennium old.
Also, Yongde is the land where the Mangfei large-leaf tea trees and Mingfeng large-leaf tea trees are found.

A neat feature is the Yongde “Earth Forest” (aka “Earth Buddhas”) on MangKuan Tufushang, 45km away from the seat of Yongde County and at an altitude of 1448 meters. It is an example of how our planet undergoes naturally occurring changes, where the softer sedimentary deposits of sea layer from Paleozoic era were worn away by wind and rain for thousands of years, leaving the hard and dense parts. There are over 200 of this hard columns over an area of about 0.15 square kilometers. The tallest are about 30 meters with the average being around 15 meters. Some look like sitting Buddhas or towers. The forest serves not only as a tourist resort, but also as a historical site for scientists to do research into geology and geognosy. Locals still gather here for a bazaar and for a lucky blessing during the Yuanxiao festival on January 15th in the Chinese lunar calendar.

About the Tea

First, about the rest of the name:
  • 2010 – the year put into storage (the leaves could have been harvested and processed into máochá earlier).
  • First Grade – the best máochá was used.
  • Ripe Pu-erh – the tea was put through the wo dui process where it was “cooked” to force a certain level of fermentation before it was put into storage.
Time to dive in to that tea. It is made of leaves from a large-leaf cultivar where the trees are about 40 years old as of this time, meaning they were harvested when the trees were about 35 years old. That makes this one of the less rare – and therefore more affordable – teas from this area.

Take a peek at the dry tea. It’s a moderately fermented tea – another part of that long tea name – so it’s not overly earthy. In fact, my humans detected some nutty and cocoa qualities in the aroma. “Tiny” got called to duty here. We wanted to use a small teapot instead of a gaiwan, and our pu-erh seasoned Yixing teapot (“Dragon”) was too large. Yep, too large. Amazing. In fact, yours truly is too large. We also drafted a new member of the Tea Gang, “Mr. Chahai,” to help out. Water was heated to 190°F, and we did 6 infusions.

Here’s a photo of those 6 infusions (the vendor says you can infuse the leaves as much as 10 times) in “Mr. Chahai.” The first one is more of a rinse, and it’s up to you humans if you want to drink it or not. My humans gulped it down, not wanting to waste a precious drop. You can see the color changes, and the flavors progressed from earthy, thin, and a bit metallic for #1 (the one we were supposed to pour down the sink drain), to more smooth and pleasant but still a bit earthy (without that metallic quality).

What’s nice is trying a tea from this part of China. Despite all the old trees, many of the gardens are a century or less old and are fewer in number. Some say that this is why Yongde is a bit neglected and considered a good pu-erh for those starting out. However, this keeps their prices lower, and you will find many hidden treasures! Personally, my humans are thinking this to be a good pu-erh for everyday – that nice after dinner tea to aid digestion (something pu-erhs are generally regarded as helpful at).

Where to buy: Yongde 2010 First Grade Ripe Pu-erh Tea.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective. Information on where to buy is presented as a courtesy only.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text – All rights reserved. No copying, posting on other sites, or other uses allowed without written permission of the copyright holder.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tea Stories: Giving an Iron Goddess Tea from JAS-eTea Her Workout

Part of the Top Ten Teas of China from JAS-eTea, this Iron Goddess (Tie Guan Yin) is a grade 6A. Where goddesses are concerned, I’m guessing that’s pretty good. Tiny, my buddy and a new member of the Tea Gang, did the steeping honors here. Steeping in a small vessel is highly recommended for a tea like this. My gaiwan squad were clamoring for it, but Tiny really wanted the gig. I couldn’t resist his appeals. TOOOT!

A good tea vendor makes sure their teas are properly packaged. We were pleased to see how this tiny package was vacuum-sealed. And even more pleased that the tea was inside a little plastic pouch inside that foil pack. We used about a third of the dry tea for our tasting trials, and also wanted to show you how large the leaves swelled up afterwards, ranging from about 1.75 inches to 2.5 inches in length. They also had that sawtooth edging we’d talked about in an earlier post here.

About the tea: This Tie Guan Yin is from the town of Gande in Anxi County, Fujian province, China. The tea is famous for its high floral (orchid) aroma and taste that we easily detected in the liquid and the dry leaves. Those leaves were processed in accordance with the traditional Tie Guan Yin tea-making techniques, giving them that expected fragrance. After letting the liquid cool down a little bit, we detected a light sweet sugary taste – subtle and pleasing. The Grade 6A designation is not explained, but we will hazard a guess: it refers to the general quality level of the leaves and style of processing. The plucking standard here is to take 2 or 3 half-matured leaves off the stem (the tip leaf-bud sets will usually already be plucked to make other styles of tea). This is not a roasted oolong but is more green. The oxidation level appears to be about mid-range. As you can see below and in the top photo, the liquid Tiny poured into his matching chahai (tea pitcher) was very light. Some say it is darker green, but we found this to be just right.

To keep things in perspective, we wanted to show you how small Anxi County is in comparison with the rest of China. From this small area comes a world-famous and rather pricey tea. Such an honor to give this sample a try (as we have done with others in the past).

I just couldn’t resist a quick flyover of an Anxi tea garden. These are cultivated plants that are kept no higher than waist height (on an average adult human in China, that is). They just happened to be out harvesting at the time, and several waved hello… at least, I hope that’s what it was. I have been mistaken for a flying chicken on occasion… TOOOT!

Giving the goddess a workout: The leaves were infused several times at 209°F for 1-2 minutes. In the photo below the dry leaves on the right (had a nice fresh, orchid aroma) and after several infusions on the left where you can see that they were fairly green, not dark like a previous oolong we’d tried recently. TOOOOT!

I’d bow to the Goddess, but I’m a too stout – and stiff – for such gyrations. So, instead, I will just say that if you get a chance to try this tea (along with the other 9 top teas of China), by all means, do so.

Where to buy: Top Ten Famous Chinese Teas Sample Pack.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective. Information on where to buy is presented as a courtesy only.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text – All rights reserved. No copying, posting on other sites, or other uses allowed without written permission of the copyright holder.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tea Stories: Nepalese 1st Flush Holds Its Own Against Darjeeling

Turf wars are commonplace in the world. And the world of tea certainly has it’s own kind of turf wars, as in the ongoing challenge for our tastebuds between teas from Darjeeling gardens in West Bengal, northern India, and the growers in eastern Nepal in the Himalayas. Two teas from Jun Chiyabari strut their stuff and proclaim themselves to be as good as their cousins from Darjeeling. This is a small, exclusive tea garden in the eastern Himalayan region of Nepal, around the hills of Hile in Dhankuta district. The garden is famous for its special and clonal orthodox teas with their individual and unique character, distinct in flavor and aroma. The two teas we’re testing here are “HOR 1st Flush – Early Version” and “HOR 1st Flush – Late Version.”

One thing is for sure: these teas almost started a turf war here during the steeping session. The Early Version steeped in Tea Gang member “White Gaiwan” declared it was definitely a Darjeeling tea, and the Late Version steeped in “Li’l Steeping Cup” had to set him straight, as you can see here:

The dry leaves certainly were similar in appearance to many Darjeeling teas we’ve tried, having that mottled look where the leaf colors varied quite a bit. The garden supplies a major portion of the tea leaves that the factory there processes, while the rest come from small growers nearby. Various cultivars are grown, some from Nepal and Darjeeling, but others from as far away as Taiwan and Japan. The plants from Nepal were cuttings and seeds and are descended from plants given by Chinese Emperors to Nepal’s rulers; some were also local plants like cultivar AV2. The Darjeeling cultivars were T1, T78, Phoobshering 312, etc., with some coming from friends and well-wishers at the start of the garden in 2000 or 2001. The diversity of tea plant cultivars here is rare, and they are expertly processed by a skilled tea master who gives them a special character. These two teas are certainly an example. They are both called First Flush (the first period of growth after dormancy that is harvested) but one is harvested earlier than the other.

Here they are in their dry form (early on the left, late on the right):

The early version appeared more green both in the dry form above and after several infusions below (early on top, late on bottom):

We had to play around a bit with the water temperature and steeping times, but found good results using water heated to around 162°F and a 1-minute steep time per infusion (with about 3 infusions from the same leaves). The flavors and color of the liquid were very Darjeeling-like, with a fruity (Muscatel) tang. Keep infusion times fairly short, since these teas seemed to steep up fast and turn overly strong and unpleasant rather quickly.

These Nepal teas are available through Jun Chiyabari. We “borrowed” some photos from the Photo Gallery on their web site to show you a bit of a snapshot of their operation. Low-growing tea plants in some parts and waist-high in others, hand-harvesting, sorting out the leaves by hand to remove stuff that shouldn’t be there (they know how picky you humans can be), some machines to do certain parts of the processing, and taste tests to monitor the quality.

Nepal’s economy remains mainly agrarian, with food crops like rice, wheat, barley, corn, sugarcane, potatoes, vegetables, and oilseeds (most sites don’t even mention tea in passing at this time). Other crops are herbs, jute, tobacco, cotton, and indigo. And livestock includes oxen, yaks, sheep, goats, and poultry. Tourism is also a growing part of their economy since Mt. Everest is there (most of the country is in the Himalayan Mountains). Since 2002 the government of Nepal has been working to improve roads, bring electricity to more isolated areas, and build schools and hospitals.

A garden like Jun Chiyabari goes a long way toward contributing to the economic health of the country while simultaneously providing the tea drinkers of the world with some very fine teas, such as these two. If you get a chance to try some, this little teapot and my Tea Gang (and our human caretakers) are sure you will be pleased and that your tastebuds will be declaring these as good as many Darjeeling teas. TOOOT!

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective. Information on where to buy is presented as a courtesy only.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text – All rights reserved. No copying, posting on other sites, or other uses allowed without written permission of the copyright holder.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tea Stories: Radella Ceylon Young Hyson Green Tea Mimics Oolong

We recently infused up a tea called Radella Ceylon Young Hyson, a green tea from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). The big question it raised is “Is this really a green tea or possibly a lightly oxidized oolong?” The question it answered with a resounding “Yes!” was “Can a quality Hyson come out of Sri Lanka?” When you infuse the leaves properly (175°F for 1.5 to 2 mins., about 4 times), the flavor is mild, smooth, with a seafood-like undertaste (salmon or scallops) that makes it a great tea to pair with those foods. But when I posted a photo of the leaves after doing those 4 infusions, lots of folks thought this was an oolong. Time to check it out.

One thing my humans have learned over the years is that in the world of tea there is quite a bit of fraud, fakery, and very honest cases of mislabeling, and it takes an astute tea vendor to know what’s what. But then, there are also a lot of changes happening in the tea world and more and more focus on some tea growing areas producing their own versions of popular teas that normally come from other areas. Green Hyson seems to be the latest. TOOOOT!

Here is a Green Hyson from China we tried awhile back:

Here is the Ceylon Green Hyson dry – large clumps, not the smaller ones above:

Here is the Ceylon Green Hyson wet – large, dark leaves with sawtooth edges, not the smaller, brighter green, more smooth edged ones above:

Now, let’s compare with some oolongs we’ve tried recently, starting with this Tie Guan Yin from Teavivre – both have a darker color and that sawtooth edging but the one below has more tender and a bit smaller leaves:

Another version of Tie Quan Yin from Teavivre that looks very much like the Green Hyson from Tea Journeyman:

Our conclusions: Oolongs are partially oxidized and come from a variety of locations, including China (a famous one is Tie Guan Yin – the Iron Goddess), Taiwan, and even the Himalayan areas of India, Myanmar (Burma), and Nepal. And quite frankly, regardless of what the tea vendor’s label says, this is more likely an oolong. Sure wish vendors would make more of an effort to be accurate. Or are they trying to lay claim to a style of tea that seems popular? TOOOT!

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective. Information on where to buy is presented as a courtesy only.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text – All rights reserved. No copying, posting on other sites, or other uses allowed without written permission of the copyright holder.

Trust the Teapot

Tea vendors: We give your teas a fair review always!
Tea drinkers: No pulling punches here. You see the good and the bad!