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, September 23, 2014

Tea Stories: Holding Our Own Mini-TOST with Samples from Lochan Tea

My humans received a pack of 14 different samples of Taiwan oolongs for the wonderful folks at Lochan Tea Ltd. in Siliguri, West Bengal, India. It’s a great company that works to bring the best teas to the attention of a market that seems to be overwhelmed with those hawking a bunch of teas and herbals heavily flavored with other stuff or the high-volume low-grade blends so popular everywhere. We want to hold our own mini-TOST featuring these samples as compensation for not being able to attend the real TOST being held October 23-30 this year. (TOST stands for “Taiwan Oolongs Study Tour” and is “an intensive week long tea educational program, which includes visit Taiwan’s tea gardens, farms, factories, museums, tea-houses, and research centers.” It is conducted by Taiwanese tea expert Thomas Shu and his lovely wife Josephine Pan. One of the attendees, for the second time, will be Susie Dunn Kilian who is in the midst of setting up her own tea shop! Very exciting!) Join in the fun, and it won’t cost you a dime. TOOOOT!


Trying all 14 samples at once won’t be possible, so we’ll be splitting these into smaller batches – probably 1-5, 6-10, and 11-14. We want to compare the various teas to the others but just don’t have enough suitable Tea Gang members for the task. Maybe someday, but for now L’il Steeper Cup and his sidekick tea bowl will be handling the task. It’s a tough job but yours truly will be at his side cheering him on and assuring that all goes well. Yes, it’s gonna be oolong heaven around here (we’ll also be sampling some Anxi oolongs from JAS-eTea about the same time).

The vendor: Lochan 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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tea Stories: Getting Ready for a Visit to Anxi County via Some Fab Oolongs from JAS-eTea

Here in teapotland (otherwise known as my humans’ kitchen) we love sampling tea and learning their stories. And we encourage you humans out there to love them, too. Sampling teas let you explore the many varieties of teas out there without “breaking the bank” (geez, I hate that word “break”!). These oolongs from Anxi county, Fujian, China, are available in a sampler pack from JAS-eTea. They and other tea vendors have begun offering sample size packs to their customers. Such a collection helps you explore a region of teas as opposed to a tea from here and a tea from there. We’re certainly looking forward to diving in and steeping these up for a real taste adventure. To get ready for that experience, we will check out Anxi County to see where these teas are from. Time to learn their story – TOOOT!


About Anxi County

The first thing to notice about Anxi County is that it is a coastal county. The second thing (a bit difficult to see in this map version) is that it is just across the sea from the country of Taiwan, home of many fine oolong teas. In 1660, due to warring factions, many of the best tea people were part of the forced exodus to the Wuyi area, where they continued their tea making. This was written about in a poem by monk and tea advocate Zhao Quan (aka Ruen Wen Xi) who was 33 years old at the time and was part of that exodus. In 1682 these people were allowed by their emperor to return to their homes (their lives belonged to the emperor the way they now belong to the government). They were needed to produce the tea being exported to other countries, especially Britain. They brought with them the technique of roasting the tea before final baking (drying) to make it look (at least to foreigners) like the Wuyi Bohea (a rough black tea) those people were used to. Over the years, though, more types of oolongs were developed and the quality overall improved as they focused on these factors instead of cranking out just large quantities of low-quality tea for export. Some of their teas today are price record setters, especially the top grade of Tieguanyin (“Iron Goddess of Mercy”).

Here’s a great photo of some tea gardens in Anxi by Roy K. Fong, Owner at Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco and a recognized authority on Chinese tea. Teas like these are what he grew up with in Hong Kong and what he now makes available to his customers. This was from May of this year (2014). He is able to visit there and see first hand how the tea sector is doing. You will note that the tea plants are low growing, unlike the tall tea trees in some areas. These are also carefully tended tea plants versus more wild tea plants.


My humans don’t remember where this photo below was found online. These two women are measuring out and then packaging tea right on the street. Imagine! Here in the U.S. there are tea shops where you can buy the tea and have it packed up right there, but it’s usually in a nice clean shop. I only hope the tea can stay pretty fresh. One thing to bear in mind about most Anxi oolongs is that they don’t tend to have as long a shelf life as Wuyi oolongs. Fortunately, as you can see in the photo at the top of this article, most of these teas are vacuum packed (and the one that isn’t is in an airtight pouch) plus they have been stored in a cool environment, so we are anticipating very good tastings ahead!


The first Chinese Tea Industry International Cooperation Summit was held in Anxi county in December 2002. Funds for this event were taken from the UN, which gets them from member nations like the U.S. (which gets the money from its citizens through taxation), even though the Chinese economy could have born this cost themselves. It was a 3-day extravaganza (tends to happen when spending other humans’ money) to promote Anxi teas. Lots of costly decorations and specially commissioned sculptures were there. How much knowledge was shared is another matter.

About Anxi Oolongs

These teas are grown and processed by a few dozen small companies and some medium-sized companies. Some farmers also deliver their harvested leaves directly to wholesalers. About 1/5th of their production is some grade of Tieguanyin. The perfect blend of soil, climate, and elevation produces the right leaves for oolongs (sort of like how Taiwan is). The usual shape is a tightly-rolled pellet (not a real pearl, though, and not as uniformly shaped as Gunpowder pellets). This distinguishes them from the longer, twisted shape of many oolongs from the Wuyi area.

Oolong varieties from Anxi include:
  • Tieguanyin (Ti Kwan Yin) — Supposedly named after the goddess Ti Kuan Yin (“Iron Bodhisattva of Compassion”), a granter of wishes. The tea is extremely fragrant and intoxicatingly complex and fruity. Our sample pack includes Grade 2A, Grade 3A, Grade 4A, Grade 5A, Grade 6A (which we tried recently – see the story here), Grade 7A, and one from Spring 2009 (yes, 5 yrs old but should be fairly fresh still). We’ll be seeing how each compares to the other.
  • Huang Jin Gui Oolong (“Golden Osmanthus”) — From Dapingtown in Anxi County. Produced in accordance with traditional tea making techniques so it has green leaves with red edges. The tea plant varietal is different from the one used for Tieguanyin, and the leaves (2 or 3 half-matured leaves) are harvested in late April. They are processed into a tight nugget-like shape. It is supposed to steep up more yellow and with a flavor that is full, mellow, and thick, with a unique aroma. Our sample pack included this tea, so we shall see how it goes!
  • Ben Shan (Original Mountain) — The leaves are from a clonal tea plant varietal grown in the mountains primarily near Raoyang village in Anxi. It has strong, heavy branches and brightly colored, distinct, ellipse-shaped leaves. The fragrance of those leaves is similar to the Tieguanyin varietal. This is a lightly oxidized tea that is then lightly roasted after the leaves are rolled. There may also be some re-roasting. The flavor is usually smooth, full-bodied, and golden with a toasty, grassy-sweet flavor and light floral notes. We got a sample in this pack and will see how it measures up!
  • Qi Lan (“Profound Orchid,” “Wonderful Orchid,” or “Strange Orchid”) — This is a more heavily oxidized oolong that has also been roasted to be darker. The flavor is said to be mild, sweet and a bit nutty. We didn’t have a sample in this pack, so it won’t be part of this tea story.
  • Rou Gui (“Cinnamon Oolong” or more correctly “Cassia Bark Oolong”) — The aroma has a cinnamon character to it, but the tea contains no actual cinnamon or cassia bark (a cinnamon-like plant – most “cinnamon” sold in the U.S. is actually made from this). The Anxi version is greener than the Wuyi version. See more info here on the vendor’s blog. We didn’t get this one in the sample pack either.
  • Daping Mao Xie (“Hairy Crab”) — Also from Dapingtown in Anxi County. An inexpensive (se chung) style oolong. The leaves have fine hairs on them like you would see in many white teas, and the leaf edges are deeply serrated, causing the leaves to form into irregular shapes when rolled. They end up looking like…you guessed it…little hairy crabs. This one is in the sample pack, so we’ll be sharing its story with you soon.
  • Wai Ma Tau (“Crooked Horse Peach”) — A medium oxidized Tieguanyin-style tea made from the leaves of a tea plant varietal called wai ma tau (“crooked horse peach”) – the tip of the tea leaf is hooked like a local peach called “Crooked Horse.” After oxidation the leaves are fired in an oven to impart richness and depth to their aroma and flavor and end up being dark green and steeping up a golden liquid with a lingering sweet taste of autumn fruit. Also not in the sample pack, but no problem. We will be quite busy with the ones that were.
  • Huang Jin Gui — Another one that wasn’t in this sample pack but that we tried awhile ago. See it here.
Well, as you can see, we have our work cut out for us here. “Tiny Teapot” and his sidekick “Chuck the Chahai” will be doing the steeping under the careful eye of your lǎo shī (老师) teapot (me, that is). TOOOT!

Where to buy: JAS-eTea Anxi Oolongs (the sample pack isn’t listed, but if you’re interested, contact them directly).

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, September 12, 2014

Tea Stories: Introducing an Array from Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden in Nepal - #6 HIB

Himalayan Imperial Black, a fully oxidized (black) tea.


Our sixth adventure into those 7 remaining tea samples was the HIB. Water temp: 200°F. Infusion times: 2.5 minutes. Dry leaves: long dark pieces, mostly intact, with a nutty/toasty aroma. First infusion: Ruby colored liquid, toasty, malty flavor with a slight edge. Second infusion: a bit overly light. We would recommend shortening steeping time to 2 minutes each or even less to get two milder infusions. If you like milk in your black tea, infuse for 5 or even 6 minutes – I infused some for them and it worked great with some milk and sweetener (sweet, malty). After infusing, we took a good look at the leaves. You could see they were a bit larger and a coppery brown, and unbroken. Another example of careful harvesting, processing, sorting, packaging. And another superb tea.


From tea reviewer:
“…This offering comes to us from Jun Chiyabari estate, located in the eastern Himalayas, in Nepal. … It promises to be quite sweet, providing caramel, vanilla and toffee notes. …the leaves twist into beautifully long ebony coloured curls. They smell very convincingly of dark chocolate. … The results are quite light for a black tea. It’s completely smooth and creamy, with hints of malt, salted caramel and chocolate. The long lasting peach and vanilla aftertaste is delicious. … The cup has more oomph this time. While the feel is a little rougher, there are deeper peach, chocolate and vanilla notes. …third cup is disappointingly bland. …besides a little malty sweetness, there’s nothing noteworthy going on. This offering’s thick, creamy body and malty flavour profile are reminiscent of Chinese black teas such as Yunnan Golds. … This sweet, delicious cuppa is definitely a treat…”
— Not a bad description, but we don’t perceive any resemblance to Yunnan Golds. And again the claim about chocolate is overdone. A slight cocoa-ish quality was it.

This wraps up our info on those tea samples from Jun Chiyabari. We are totally astounded that every tea vendor out there isn’t clamoring to carry these teas and promoting them to the hilt to their customers. But that’s the world of tea. The good stuff goes unnoticed while the bad stuff gets a bunch of fruits, flower petals, spices, etc., added to it and hawked as the latest taste sensation to a public that doesn’t know any better and goes by the strong aroma of the dry tea to make their purchasing decision. This is why we are here, though, and continue to be, despite the pressure on our time to seek more lucrative endeavors. You need to know so these wonderful teas and others like them don’t disappear and get replaced with that other stuff. We also need to present these teas in a more clear and understandable manner, without all the garble, and with photos since, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And no one can make us pull bad reviews, the way they can on some tea review sites – that makes what you read here totally trustworthy.

As always, we thank you for reading.

Where to buy: Jun Chiyabari teas seem to be available through different vendors.

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, September 11, 2014

Tea Stories: Introducing an Array from Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden in Nepal - #4 HSP, #5 HRR, & #7 HBO

Himalayan Spring, a fully oxidized (black) tea.


Our fourth adventure into those 7 remaining tea samples was the HSP. Water temp: 180°F. Infusion times: 2 minutes. Dry leaves: mostly intact, brownish green, aroma was nutty, fresh, and planty. First infusion: mild, smooth, tangy aftertaste, mild aroma that was slightly floral. Second infusion: floral at first, then sugary, then fruity tang. After infusing, we took a good look at the leaves. You could see they were tippy, tender, and pretty greenish, considering that the Jun Chiyabari folks classify this as a black tea, that is, fully oxidized. A lovely tea, no matter how it’s classified, though.


Himalayan Royale Ruby, a fully oxidized (black) tea.


Our fifth adventure into those 7 remaining tea samples was the HRR. Water temp: 200°F. Infusion times: 2.5 minutes. Dry leaves: dark pieces, mostly intact, with a somewhat raisin-like aroma. First infusion: Amber color, cinnamon/honey aroma and flavor. Second infusion: same color, flavor took on slight nutty character with a slight tang. After infusing, we took a good look at the leaves. You could see they were smallish, tippy, and dark copper in color – they are also pretty tough little buggers (but that doesn’t mean they didn’t steep up well). The cinnamon here was phenomenal and unexpected. We had experienced this with some Rou Gui oolongs, but not in a black tea.


Himalayan Bouquet, a semi-oxidized (oolong) tea.


Our seventh adventure into those 7 remaining tea samples was the HBO. Water temp: 190°F. Infusion times: 1.5 minutes. Dry leaves: big curled pieces, varied colors, dry planty with raisiny quality. First infusion: floral character (my humans were thinking chrysanthemum here, but it could be more orchid). Second infusion: floral character gone, now tangy. After infusing, we took a good look at the leaves. You could see they were tippy, tender, coppery colored, and even had some unopened buds (tight young leaves). Another example of careful harvesting, processing, sorting, packaging. The Jun Chiyabari folks are excelling here, to be sure. We’re pretty amazed their teas aren’t seen more often on vendor sites featuring fine teas.


Don’t miss our next adventure with Himalayan Imperial Black (HIB). TOOOOT!

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, September 10, 2014

Tea Stories: Bi Luo Chun From Dongting to Your Cup via JAS-eTea

The two final samples from the Top Ten Chinese Tea sampler pack from JAS-eTea recently underwent the scrutiny of this little teapot and my humans, with the able assistance of “Tiny” Teapot and his Chahai Sidekick. This first one is Premium Dongting Xishan Bi Luo Chun, a green tea so fine that it puts most other green teas to shame. And “Tiny” was a superb steeper here.


One thing to be aware of is that this tea, being so highly prized, is a target of tea fakery, where other tea leaves of similar size and shape are labeled as Bi Luo Chun. You can tell the genuine article by the appearance and aroma of the dry leaves (sweet and pleasant with a mild fruity/floral character), the color of the liquid (very pale), and the appearance of the leaves after steeping (olive green, mainly tippy, and small).

Known as one of the top 10 Chinese teas, Bi Luo Chun is a green tea mainly produced on the Dongting Mountain of Taihu Lake, Wuxian County, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. The version from there is often called “Dongting Biluochun” to acknowledge this place of origin.


Historical records show that Bi Luo Chun had a good reputation in the Sui and Tang Dynasties over 1,000 years ago. Today, Bi Luo Chun comes from Dongting, Jiangsu province, China, and a couple of other places. The Bi Luo Chun from Dong Shan (East Mountain) is considered best. Some is also grown in Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces, having larger, less uniform leaves and a more nutty flavor (not fruity and smooth). There are 7 grades: Supreme, Supreme I, Grade I, Grade II, Grade III, Chao Qing I, and Chao Qing II. Dongting Bi Luo Chun leaves are soft green, bright, and well-proportioned. Lower grade levels will have leaves that are less bright. And the fakes are dark, being older than Dongting Bi Luo Chun.

The tea trees and fruit trees in Dongting are planted in alternate rows so that the tea leaves absorb the scent of the fruit blossoms and the fruits. For this one, the dry leaves had a freshness and pleasant aroma that was very light and a distinct hint of that fruity quality. [Hint: don’t expect that “fruity scent” like you would get from things like fruity candies or even actual fruits.] Bi Luo Chun dry tea leaves are more tippy than many similar teas; they are shaped like spiraled strips, very tender, and covered with white tips. After infusing, the leaves are olive in color and fairly bright looking.


This is a tea to be treated with care, which “Tiny” did. The water was heated to 160°F and poured carefully into him. The leaves were infused for only 1 minute and yielded a pale-colored liquid with a light aroma and flavor – pleasant and mild. No harshness, bitterness, or astringency. The next infusion had a more yellow liquid (slightly), with an aroma and flavor like scallops and plantiness (again only slightly). There was also a touch of edginess and toasty quality. The third infusion had none of this, though, and was mild, pleasant, and had no edginess.


The East and West Dongting Mountains are near Taihu Lake and are most famous of the mountains there. West mountain actually forms an island in the lake, and East mountain forms a peninsula in it. The area is popular with tourists for its beautiful settings and the wonderful fragrances from the many fruit trees there (something always seem to be either in bloom or bearing fruit). Fortunately, the area can serve both for scenery and for good products, including teas like this one.

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.

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!