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!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tea Stories: Revisiting That Classic Taiwanese Tea – Formosa Ruby Black (No. 18) from JAS-eTea.com

Over the years, my humans and I have not only had hundreds of tea adventures, we have also gotten more sophisticated in our appreciation of fine teas. About 4 years ago we tried the Formosa Ruby Black sourced by another tea vendor. At that time, we were pleased with the tea and did not realize that it was rather inferior in quality to others out there. That fact didn’t really come to our attention until the sample of this version of the Formosa Ruby Black (also called Taiwan Black Tea No. 18) arrived. Once I steeped it up for my humans… but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Best when telling any story to start at the beginning. Here goes…


The beginning is Formosa, an island nation off the southeast coast of China and that now goes by the name Taiwan. A lot of the teas grown there came from China and are descended from the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis plant.


In the 1920s, the Japanese brought Camellia sinensis var. assamica plant to the island to establish them as major producers of black tea. Today, teas are processed as green, black, and oolong style, with the majority being the last one. This black tea is from the Sun Moon Lake area of central Taiwan (see a beautiful photo of it here), and I did a quick fly over of the tea farms there.


This black tea is the kind that Asians call “red tea” – they base the tea type on the color of the steeped liquid, and humans elsewhere base it on the color of the dry tea leaves. As you can see below, the leaves in their dry form are almost black and appear to be mostly full leaf, not broken leaves or ones ground to fannings or dust size particles. While the official write-ups online say this tea has a cinnamon-like aroma, my humans perceived more of an apricotty fragrance that was at the same time rather floral, like the blossoms on many types of fruit trees are.


We heated water to slightly below boiling and infused the same batch of leaves for three times (1 minute, 1.5 minutes, and 2 minutes). Each infusion brought out more and more of the pepperminty quality this tea is supposed to have but remained pleasant and not like an overly minty mouthwash. The lightly fruity/floral aroma and flavor persisted in the first infusion but faded in the second and third. My humans did not perceive any cinnamon quality, though. They did give me a thorough scrubbing out afterwards, being sure to get those large full leaf pieces out of me. The one below was stuck in my spot. PtuiTOOOT!


Here are his buddies, which swelled up quite a bit during the infusing process:


Here again is a tea with natural flavors coming through. I’ve said this a lot, as have my humans, but enjoying teas without all that stuff added to them is a great way to go. You may not always have the same taste experience that the vendor describes, but don’t worry about that. Your tastebuds are different and unique to you. Plus, how you perceive tastes and aromas will depend in part on some of your personal experiences. Try the tea, enjoy the tea. Life is a journey and in the end you are just a bunch of shards… uh, I mean, well, you know!

Visit their Web site.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective.

© 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, April 7, 2014

Tea Stories: Dancong Gardenia Aromas Experienced and Explained thru 3 Samples from JAS-eTea

Yours truly is back from my travels to check out the origins of Dancong Phoenix oolongs. The Tea Gang and I (and our human caretakers, of course) were raring to dive into those samples we’d gotten a little while ago from the good folks at JAS-eTea.com.

It seems that learning something about a tea before sampling it enhances the experience. My humans had been doing that for the past several years, but quite frankly we were thinking that the process wasn’t going far enough. Too many samples were coming in too fast to allow this, and even excluding certain categories of samples (such as most highly flavor-enhanced teas that were mainly chunks of fruit, flower petals, spices, and other flavorings with a few true tea leaves sprinkled in) didn’t help. It still left a ton of tea types to try. Plus, each vendor has different sources and different abilities to bring the best to their customers.

So, we paid close attention and have now narrowed down to a handful of companies that are even worth dealing with. They stay consistent in bringing the best quality to market and keeping the bar high for their competitors in terms of their dedication and customer service. These oolongs are from one of these companies. We hope they’ll be able to carry on bringing you these premium teas for a long time to come.


My helper gang member for this endeavor was my good buddy “Cicada.” He’s a Yixing (pronounced “eesheeng”) clay teapot that has been colored to appear more blue (unusual but quite attractive) and has a cicada-shaped lid handle with a bamboo-shaped pot handle. Cicadas are symbols of long life, resurrection, and spirituality while the bamboo stands for nobility and growth. He lives up to these symbols to be sure! Being made of that porous and unsealed zisha clay, he steeps only one type of tea: oolongs.

The Teas

Here are the three we tried. It’s important to note that the “gardenia” fragrance occurs naturally due to the specific cultivar and being processed by a skilled tea master. Each of these teas uses the Song cultivar Huang Zhi Xiang and is oxidized toward the higher end of the scale.

1 – Nonpareil Mt. Wudong Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong – floral aroma clearly evident in the dry leaves.

2 – Imperial Mt. Wudong Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong – floral with some planty/nutty aromas in the dry leaves.

3 – Premium Mt. Wudong Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong – strongest floral aroma with a nutty/fruity quality in the dry leaves.

Preparation – Here’s What We Did

Infused each one in about a half cup of water (4 ounces or about 120 cc) and about 5 grams of tea leaves (about a third of what comes in the sample pouch). Used water heated to just below boiling (209°F or 98° C) and did short infusions, starting with about 19 seconds for the first one and adding about 5-6 seconds to each subsequent infusion. For this tryout, we did only 5 infusions to keep our humans from overdoing it. (You should be able to get about 15 infusions from each 5-gram leaves amount. That’s about 7.5 cups (8 ounces each) of tea, quite a bargain when compared to those scented or flavored teas where the flavor disappears after one or two infusions.)

The Taste Results

One of the tough things about teas like this is not knowing what the heck a gardenia smells like. How are my humans to know if these teas meet that test? Well, they did some exploring and found that the fragrance of this flower (originating in Africa and tropical Asian countries) is very tropical flowery, being thick and refreshing all at once. Each of these oolongs certainly exhibited this type of fragrance in the dry leaves, during infusing (they would lift “Cicada’s” lid and sniff), and in the cup. The infusions of each would start out fairly light in this floral character but get stronger with subsequent infusions. The Nonpareil (#1) was strictly floral, while the Imperial (#2) and the Premium (#3) had some rather prominent roasty/nutty characters to them in the early infusions but that faded by the fifth one. By far, the Premium version was the best, but all three lived up to the reputation this tea group has.

More About the Cultivar and the Tea Names

The Song cultivar Huang Zhi Xiang is often translated as “kumquat fragrance” (not “yellow stalk” as some think) since Huangzhi is a local Chinese dialect for a type of kumquat. While kumquats are a citrus fruit, this tea does not have a citrusy quality. The gardenia aroma is achieved during processing. The key in part is to use only this cultivar when making the tea, and this accounts for the name “Dan Cong” which means it was made that way. “Phoenix” means the Phoenix Mountains in Guangdong Province in southeast China (see my earlier article for more info). This cultivar was propagated from a live tea tree carbon dated back to the southern Song Dynasty (13th century). “Imperial” often means something that was used as a tribute tea (handed over by royal mandate to the Emperor). “Nonpareil” means a person or thing that is unsurpassed or unmatched; peerless example. And of course “Premium” means the best.

Last but not least, “Mt. Wudong” (Wudongshan) is a tall mountain kissed by mists; it lies in the greater Phoenix Mountain area. The teas from here are the most pure and natural Dancong tea groves, resulting in the most cleanly processed teas of all of the Phoenix Dancong region. The tea trees grow tall, with their roots reaching deep into the soil and allowing for the development of phytonutrients and aroma compounds unique to their tree group (gardenia, honey orchid, etc.).

More About Gardenias

There are hundreds of cultivars of gardenias, a tropical flower originating in Africa and tropical parts of Asia. They are often used in perfumes, with one of the best being by Marc Jacobs, according to some web sites (my ‘she’ human can’t stand any perfumes, so you can’t go by her opinion here). Three examples:

A - gardenia ‘perfecta’ – more rose-like in appearance, a great lapel bloom.

B - Gardenia (Kailarsenia) vietnamensis (Vietnamese Gardenia) – simpler appearance with only six petals.

C - Cape Jasmine Common Gardenia (Gardenia Jasminoides) – more haphazard in appearance than A and more petals than B, native to southern China.

A reminder: Unlike Jasmine scented teas on the market, this tea is not scented with gardenia petals. The flavor occurs naturally, making it all the more special and difficult to achieve.

Wow, an exciting tea adventure and quite a tea story to tell. We hope you enjoyed it and will be brave humans and try these teas sometime soon! TOOOOOOT!

Visit their Web site.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective.

© 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, April 3, 2014

Tea Stories: Getting Nutty at Tea Time with Sweet Hickory Mix from That Nutty Redhead

My humans have finally gone nuts! Uh, I mean they are now totally nutty. Hm, that is they finally got around to trying some of those nuts – specifically, the Sweet Hickory nut mix (almonds, cashews, and pecans steamed and coated with sugar and smoked hickory flavoring) – from That Nutty Redhead. Yours truly enlisted help from the Tea Gang to steep up several teas for my humans to pair with these teas to see how well they went together.

Left to right: Green tea, oolong tea, black tea (see below for details on each tea).

First, we want to give you the details on each of the teas we tried. The experts recommend green tea with cashews, oolong (among others) with pecans, and black tea with almonds. But there are so many different versions of each that you can’t really go by that. Each of the teas shown above are ones we’ve reviewed on this blog and had some extra left from the original sample packs. They are: 2011 Spring Authentic Handmade Premium Traditional Style Liu An Gua Pian (Melon Slice) Green Tea from JAS-eTea.com, Da Yu Ling Taiwanese oolong from TeafromTaiwan.com, and Hattialli Golden Lion 2012 2nd Flush Assam from Lochan Tea, Ltd. We chose them for our pairing trials since quite frankly we liked them.

Next, my humans wanted to talk about the flavors of the nuts. (I need to humor them on things like this sometimes.) They were a bit concerned at first that the nuts would be too sweet since they don’t consume a lot of sugary things as a rule. Also, they were concerned that the smoky hickory quality would be too strong and overwhelm the nut flavors, sort of like how a Lapsang Souchong is so overly smoky tasting. They are happy to report that neither was the case. The sweetness and smoky hickory-ness were both just enough and in perfect balance with each other while letting the nut flavors come through. Phew! I was so relieved. My humans can be so demanding about these things sometimes that it would have cancelled the whole tea pairing aspect of the evening. After all, if the nuts were no good, why bother trying the teas with them?

Finally, the teas were steeped and tried side by side with the nuts. The green tea was, despite being wonderful on its own, too light in flavor to enjoy with the nuts. The oolong was not bad with the nuts but not quite compatible flavor-wise. And the star of the show was the Hattialli Assam. This is not that CTC style Assam used as a basis for many masala chai versions. This is a tippy golden Assam and has a nutty flavor that was ideal with the Sweet Hickory nut mix. Totally marvelous!

Well, there you have it. Those expert recommendations need to be altered a bit. Go for that nutty tasting Assam with this wonderful nut mix for a tea time delight. TOOOT!

Visit their Web site.

Disclaimer: This nut mix was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning them and the company are strictly objective.

© 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, March 31, 2014

Tea Stories: A Dancong Adventure (in celebration of the Dancong Sampler from JAS-eTea)

No longer content with just steeping these teas for my humans, this little teapot has set out on some virtual visits to the locations where these teas come from. These samples from JAS-eTea.com are the latest to spur me in my world travels. These are Dancong teas from the Guangdong province of China (see more info here). There are eleven in all with each pouch holding about 15 grams each. Some of these have already been tried here in the Little Yellow Teapot testing lab (also known as my humans’ kitchen), but others have not. Before getting to them, though, I wanted to do a virtual exploration of that part of the tea world. And away we go…TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!


I hopped on across the globe to the Guangdong province where my first stop was the big city of Guangzhou (the province capital). It’s a bit of a way from our final destination – Phoenix Mountain. Here’s a handy map for you to see what I am talking about:


As you can see, it’s nighttime (I had those timezones figured a bit off – it’s LATER there, not EARLIER) so a quick view of some of those night lights and then off to snooze.


The next day, I did a bit of sightseeing and caught up with cousin of mine who has a job as a fountain in the Yuntai Garden (a park in the city there). We chatted a bit (using our common language of teapot-speak) and then I had to get busy.


I couldn’t resist a quick stop in this teashop in Guangzhou where I was able to dispense my sage counsel regarding tea! Too many times I have seen humans getting sloppy with the pouring of the tea. It makes me shudder, which makes my lid rattle slightly.


Off to the countryside and a lychee grove. Lychees are a fruit that are often used to flavor teas. And the trees they grow on sure are tall, or do they just seem that way since I’m so little?


Back on the road and past some misty tea gardens.


On the way to Phoenix Mountain, I stopped at a tea factory and helped some workers sort the tea leaves from the new harvest just coming in. They were very appreciative and wanted me to stick around, but my humans wouldn’t have liked that too much.


So exciting to see teas in the making! And speaking of teas, here is the one I have already steeped for my humans to try: 2011 Spring Nonpareil Mt. Wudong Song Variety Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong.


The other teas are:
  • Imperial and Premium versions of Mt. Wudong Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – The gardenia aroma is natural, not added, and is brought out during the production of the tea. It’s in the variety of Dancong tea bush used for this tea.
  • Three versions (Imperial, Premium, and Nonpareil) of Mt. Wudong Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – This is the honey orchid variety of Dancong tea. The farmers growing this tea live on Mt. Wudong where the tea is from. It is a high-elevation tea, making it more delicate and nuanced. The locals often drink it for health reasons.
  • Imperial Yu Lan Xiang (Magnolia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – A unique and very natural magnolia aroma compliments the honey taste. No added flavorings needed – TOOOT!
  • Imperial Jiang Hua Xiang (Ginger Flower) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – Mmmm…that natural ginger flower aroma is quite enticing and takes a really skilled tea master to process the leaves just right to bring it out. One false move and UGH!
  • Mt. Wudong Imperial Da Wu Ye (big black leaf) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – Another orchid aroma tea that is a pure delight.
  • Imperial Songzhong Zhi Lan Xiang (Orchid Aroma) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – The tasty infusions keep coming with a sweet flavor and orchid aroma.
  • Imperial Xing Ren Xiang (Almond Aroma) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea – A special tea made by renowned tea farmer/producer Lin Songzhu. He uses the leaves from Ju Duo Zhai trees aged 80 years or more and stays with the tea day and night during processing. The result is light honey, almond and a complexity that will keep your tongue excited.
I guess I’d better head back home now and get busy steeping these teas. They all sound so fanTEAstic! We may also be paying a visit to some of the tea farmers growing these wonderful teas, if time allows. Until then, happy sipping, humans! TOOOT!

Visit their Web site.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective.

© 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, March 24, 2014

Tea Stories: Giddapahar Estate’s Green Wonder (sourced by Lochan Tea)

A lovely tea from our buddies at Lochan Tea, Ltd., has this little teapot and my Tea Gang dreaming of the Giddapahar Estate, one of the Darjeeling gardens (the last count I saw was 88). The tea is called Green Wonder. This one is second flush from 2013 and sourced by the Lochan team where they selected it from a variety of samples to offer to their customers. It’s a tough job, but they are up to the task.


We had tried the Giddapahar SFTGFOP 1 CL TPY Autumn Flush 2012 recently (see the article here) and were suitably impressed. This tea measured up to that other one. The dry leaves had a nutty grassy aroma and that is also evident in the liquid. After steeping the leaves (shown in the little bowl on the right above) were rather small pieces, which can be seen as a good thing by some since it makes more surface area to release all the goodness in the leaves. And just look at that lovely golden color in the teacup! TOOOT!

Darjeeling teas are often classified as black teas, that is, fully oxidized. However, the tea processors there are processing some teas as white, green, aged (pu-erh), and even oolong (semi-oxidized). They are pushing to expand their market and get recognition for the many smaller production and truly hand-crafted or artisan teas. Second flush tea is considered the best. It is the second period of growth after the first harvest of the growing season (there is usually a period of dormancy during Winter months) and the plant puts a lot of its energy into growing out those leaves a second time.

My virtual visit to the Giddapahar Estate:

No longer content with just trying these teas, this little teapot just has to take a virtual journey to visit the Giddapahar Estate. So here I go! This is small and family-owned (Shaw) since 1881. They are in the most prestigious heart of the Kurseong Valley (see map at end of article) and grow traditional China varietals as well as some clonals. They have 94 hectares planted with these tea bushes. This is relatively small. You would be wise to order their first flush teas in advance, something that the folks at Lochan Tea can help with. Our buddy Rajiv Lochan gave fellow tea blogger Matt of Mattcha’s Blog a tour back in March of 2009. I traveled back in time to join them. Here is a big machine inside the Giddapahar tea factory (click on it to see Matt's entire article):

http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/touring-darjeeling-proper-darjeeling.html

One thing for sure is it’s a great place to visit, whether or not you’re interested in tea. Just look at the view of the valley around Kurseong (called alternately a hill station and a hamlet) as seen from Giddapahar View Point. Plus there is the Giddapahar Seti Mata Temple – this temple is carved out of an ancient rock and is dedicated to Goddess Durga. The temple is considered very sacred for the Hindus. Besides the Giddapahar Estate, there are other fine tea gardens in the area, including Castleton, Makaibari, and Ambootia.

The valley below Giddapahar and Kurseong.

Tea harvesting is labor-intensive, even when machines are used, but here the leaves are hand-picked by a team of skilled workers. Most often they are women, like shown here from India Travel Guide (and that’s me riding in one of the baskets and watching in admiration).


Giddapahar map shown here is a still capture from the full map here: Darjeeling Garden Map on Camellia-sinensis.com Blog.


Well, time to head back to my cozy corner in the kitchen and get busy steeping tea for my humans. See you soon for another virtual trip to another exciting corner of the wide world of tea. TOOOT!

Visit the Lochan Tea, Ltd., Web site.

Disclaimer: This tea was provided by the company named. However, any opinions concerning this tea and the company are always strictly objective.

© 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.

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Tea vendors: We give your teas a fair review always!
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