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, July 23, 2014

Tea Stories: A Trip to Nannuo Mountain via a Raw Pu-erh from JAS-eTea

Bai Po Lao Zhai Pure Old-Tree Raw Pu-erh from JAS-eTea took us on a journey. One of the best things about tea is how it can transport you. Most of you reading this live an ocean away from the countries that grow the tea plants, harvest the leaves, and process them into the teas you enjoy. But every sip is a connection, a line drawn between your human-type lips and the leaves and where they were grown. This was sure true with this tea. Every sip was a revelation. And each brought us closer to Nannuo Mountain!

Nannuo Mountain is in the Xishuangbanna prefecture in the southern part of Yunnan province, China. This mountain is one of the new Famous Six Tea Mountains (the others are Yiwu, Jingmai, Menghai, Bulang, and Youle) and is located north of the Mekong River. Over time, the original famous tea mountains were destroyed by over-taxation which encouraged over-picking to produce enough to pay the taxes, wildfires around the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and neglect since they weren’t getting a good price for their crop. Renewed interest in pu-erh teas (named after the town of Pu’er which as the administrative head of the region) spurred tea factory building and bringing back old production methods as well as focusing new attention on those old tea trees. This tea is a result of those efforts.

It’s always good to take a look at the dry tea. In this case, it’s a far cry from that dust-in-a-bag tea out there. Here you can clearly see the tea leaves – this is a compressed clump broken off of the full bing (disc) cake for this sample (this tea is too precious to be sending out full bings as samples). This little bit of tea leaves, showing the aging (about 9 years) and also the presence of some lighter buds, can be infused up to about 13 times, according to the vendor’s store site. (The tea was sourced by the folks at JKteashop who partner with JAS-eTea to make rare and premium teas like this available to you humans here.) The color in the photo is a bit off. The leaves had a bluish-green cast. The aroma of the dried leaves was complex – fruity (apricot, plum) but a hint of herbs (basil, mint). Time for some steeping. TOOOOT!

This is a fairly rare tea that deserves to be treated with care. Start with water heated to 190°F. Infuse in a gaiwan for best flavor, or you can use a professional tasting cup like we did. In fact, L’il Tasting Cup did a really professional job. He is a credit to the Tea Gang. And for short infusions (10 seconds for the first, 15 seconds for the rest), he’s a true champ.

The photo at top shows the color of the final infusion. The liquid started out very pale, almost clear, since the tea leaves were still clumped together. Each additional infusion got a little darker than the previous one. Since this is a raw (uncooked, sheng) pu-erh, it is made from tea leaves that have undergone a minimal amount of processing. The flavor is light in the beginning with a smoky earthy aroma, and subsequent infusions are a bit stronger and stronger, with more of the earthy quality and even a slight tang in the aftertaste. Throughout the steeping session, the tea liquid produced was mild with no bitterness. Another thing my humans discovered is that, unlike many other teas which turn bitter when cooled, this one got even more pleasant as it cooled.

A delight for raw pu-erh aficionados and even those who want to get a start with enjoying these teas. And a tastebud adventure to a far-off mountain.

Where to buy: Nannuo Mountain 2005 Old Tree Raw Pu-erh.

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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tea Stories: A Perfect Storm of Experience and 3 Green Teas from Shan Valley

There was a perfect storm here in my humans’ test kitchen (well, it’s their only kitchen). Three green teas from Shan Valley ran smack into my Tea Gang’s experience with similar teas. That’s how it goes sometimes – humans try teas and learn from them and then apply that to the next teas they try, which can have a much harder time impressing or, on the contrary, can be appreciated all the more for qualities that the humans might otherwise not have noticed. It’s a storm of past experience swirling around those new teas. And so it went here.

Back in October 2013 (it seems to my humans like a lot longer) we steeped up some samples from Shan Valley. They came to us bagged, but we cut open the bags and dumped the loose leaves into the pot to steep. This latest round came to us loose since this time we remembered to specify that. A lot of you humans out there want the bagged teas (and miss out on a lot of great tea flavor because of it), so vendors get stuck needing to offer their nice teas in those bags. But thankfully, many also provide a lot of them in loose form. And these came in those great pouches that can have the excess air squeezed out as the tea gets used up. Great! Things are already lookin’ good for this tea event.

Here’s something looking even better – the dry leaves of the three teas:

Tea 1 – Kokang Green: This first flush green tea is from the Kokang region of Myanmar, close to the Yunan region in china. This is considered the highest quality tea that is available to the public in Myanmar. We found the dry leaves (mostly large pieces) to have a fresh, planty, and somewhat vegetal aroma.

Tea 2 – Pyin Green: This tea is a first flush tea and is considered an everyday drinking tea and is said to steep up a reddish color in the cup. It originates in Pyin Long within Northern Shan, Myanmar. The aroma of the leaves was rich, fresh, planty, and a bit vegetal. They were quite dark (a bit odd for a tea classified as a green tea) and large pieces.

Tea 3 – Shan First Flush Green: This tea is considered to be the freshest and most sought after, made from leaves gathered during the first harvest of the year, usually in early April. The aroma was quite spinachy and fresh, and the dry leaves were obviously in large pieces.

Three members of my gang of mini-steepers (they hold about 4-6 ounces of liquid) were enlisted to handle the main event here. We used water heated to 160°F and infused the leaves for 3 minutes for 3 infusions for each tea. The taste results:

Tea 1 – First infusion had a very sheng (raw) pu-erh quality but also a Wuyi Rock oolong quality. Now, I know that some of you humans might not know what that means, but this is that storm part – the swirling of my humans’ past experience with both styles of teas raining down on this current experience. Basically, the best way to describe both is a fairly mineral tasting green tea with some earthy quality. Second infusion had a touch of sweetness and was mostly sheng-like, not as earthy or rock-like. Third infusion was smooth, mild, and more rock-like. None had any bitterness.

Tea 2 – First infusion was fairly sheng-like and only slightly rock-like (more vegetal, less mineral quality to the flavor). Second infusion was more earthy, rock-like, and smooth. Third infusion was rich, earthy, rock-like, and smooth. Again no bitterness.

Tea 3 – First infusion was slightly earthy, some rock-like character, and lingered on the tongue. Second infusion was initially smooth and then a lingering rock-like flavor. Third infusion was smooth and rock-like with a hint of sweetness at the end. Also not bitter.

Here are the leaves after we did the series of infusions from them (note the twig and what appears to be a tea plant flower bud in #1):

Where sheng pu-erhs, Wuyi rock oolongs, and these Shan Valley teas come from (approximately):

The similarity to sheng pu-erhs is quite understandable, with similar cultivars used and a similar terroir. How that Wuyi rock quality comes about is a mystery. Possibly the area is similar geographically to the Wuyi Mountain area in Fujian province. We just know that for those of you who enjoy both styles these teas from Shan Valley will be of some interest to try and compare.

Shan valley is located in the U.S. but with a strong connection to the growers. Their site says: “We get our tea directly from local tea growers in Myanmar, which include family and farmers, we do not import anything from other companies!” That’s cutting out the middleman and assuring you fresh quality teas at an affordable price.

Where to buy:
Koyang Green Tea.
Pyin Green Tea.
Shan First Flush Green Tea - 2014.

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, July 11, 2014

Tea Stories: 2 White Teas Face Off with 1 from Tea Journeyman

Awhile back we were offered samples from a new tea vendor called Tea Journeyman. We’ve cut way back on samples in part because so many were proving not to be worth the effort. Now we try to focus on samples from companies that have shown their quality is consistent, and whose business sense seems to assure success. We consider part of our task here to help promote those tea companies that will be here today and here tomorrow – a number of companies we’ve reviewed teas for didn’t last much longer despite a good review or sometimes due to a bad review (from us and others). In this case, though, the story of this vendor was so intriguing that we thought “Why not?” We tried the first sample from them a little while ago, and are now diving into the second. This one is Uva Greenland Silver Tips Ceylon White Tea.

The two other teas involved in this face-off are from the fine folks at Now, normally I don’t mention competing vendors in these articles, but the focus of this blog has changed to being more about tea generally and about the samples as a secondary issue. So, I hope this won’t seem bad form to mention that other vendor here. Part of the inspiration for doing so, though, comes from Tea Journeyman. Their email said: “I believe the Sri Lanka silver tips are superior to any Fuding needles that I have had, and that includes one fascinating silver needle from Anxi that I just had last night. I know it sounds cliche, but the tea from these Sri Lankan needles honestly remind me of a light champagne.” (My humans are teetotalers and so cannot confirm this statement about the champagne.) This sounded like a bit of a challenge, which yours truly and my Tea Gang and tea-loving humans tend to find irresistible. Having some Yunnan Silver Needle (on the left) and Fuding Silver Needle (on the right) from JAS-eTea, we selected them as our challengers. That Silver Tips tea had his work cut out for him. TOOOOT!

This face-off is all about terroir. In this case, it spans not only the nation of China but also the Bay of Bengal, as you can see on the map here:

Tea growing in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) hasn’t been going on anywhere nearly as long as it has in China, but it has been long enough for them to be getting better and better at not just the growing but also the processing. Teas from coastal Fujian province have different climatic conditions than those from non-coastal Yunnan province (home of pu-erh teas made from assamica varietals, many several hundred years old). The Fujian Silver Needle is considered by some to be the only true Silver Needle tea. It is supposed to be made from a certain tea plant cultivar (the Da Bai, or Large White, cultivar). My team, consisting of Little White Gaiwan and two steeping cups, were certainly excited to get going. So, without further ado, on with the show, as you humans say!

All three teas were infused in water heated to 180°F for 3 minutes, 3 mins. 15 secs., and 3.5 minutes (three infusions of the same set of leaves from each tea). Each team member was a real trooper and, if they had feet and legs, could probably have held their own at the World Cup (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it wasn’t about a big tea steep-off). In the photo above you see that third infusion lined up for the photo shoot. As for flavors and aromas, we’ll detail those below. First, here are the leaves before and after my team got done infusing them:

1 – Dry: plump, silvery-hair covered buds; sweet raisiny aroma. Wet: pale liquid with a faint aroma, full mouthfeel, smooth, light flavor that is a bit raisiny.

2 – Dry: smaller buds, also silvery-hair covered; apricot/vegetal aroma. Wet: also pale colored liquid with a planty taste and a hint of sweetness in the aftertaste. Not sure if this qualifies as champagne-like, having never had champagne.

3 – Dry: plump, silvery-hair covered buds, not as big as #1 or as small as #2, and having a lightly nutty aroma. Wet: color was a little more golden, the flavor was planty with a hint of sweetness in the aftertaste, like #2.

Our conclusions: My humans liked #1 best since they prefer that raisiny quality. However, it was amazing to see how closely the Ceylon Silver Tips mimicked that Fuding Silver Needle. They were so similar that in a blind test, my humans doubt they could distinguish the two. Overall, it seems, getting back to the issue of terroir, that those grown in climates stirred by ocean breezes (true of both Fujian and Ceylon teas) tend to be somewhat similar. This is by far not the only factor in a tea’s flavor but here is shown to be a pretty big one. Try all three or the Silver Needle versions of your choice to see how they compare to you. And by all means, dear humans, enjoy - TOOOT!

Where to buy: Uva Greenland Silver Tips White 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.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tea Stories: A Packet of Tea from the Teapoet Lady in England

From across the sea
Came packet of tea
From tea poet lady so clever

But by tea she sent
Our tastebuds were bent
And we want no more of it ever

It’s a little unusual to start one of our tea stories with a poem, but this was a rather unusual tea adventure. This tea’s name is unknown. It was a small sample (about 2 teaspoonfuls) sent to us by Elizabeth Darcy Jones, aka the Teapoet, from England. She wrote a neat book of poems all about my favorite subject: tea – TOOOT! Thus the inspiration to write a poem about this mystery tea. And, if it’s not giving away the ending of the story too soon, the poem tells you the experience did not suit my humans well at all. But let’s back up to how all this began.

Once upon a time on Twitter (okay it was only a week or so ago) my ‘she’ human (twitter name: @Celtiegirl) answered a query by Ms. Jones (twitter name: @LadyEDJ) about a tea from Russia that she was trying to identify. The first guess was Lapsang Souchong, knowing that it tends to be popular in Russia, but Ms. Jones said no that the tea wasn’t smoky enough. The next guess was Keemun, which is a fine black tea from Qimen province in China and not nearly as smoky. At that point Ms. Jones did something quite logical: she offered to send a small sample – how else can one really tell what the tea is? Now, this was a very generous thing to do. After all, she’s not a tea vendor trying to sell tea. She is a poet writing about tea. And it was just one tea and my humans were both quite curious by then, so they eagerly accepted. Tea fun! The sample arrived quicker than expected, but they wanted to try it at the first opportunity, starting with a look at the dry tea and a big sniff to detect its aroma.

This is where our story takes a downward turn. The aroma of this “stuff” (our standards are so high that it’s tough to call this by the name “tea”) was non-existent. Sigh! On with the steeping. We used water heated to a rolling boil and steeped for 5 minutes. Since the amount received was small, I enlisted Tea Gang member Li’l One Cupper to do the honors here (I’m not sure he’ll ever forgive me, though). The aroma while steeping was already indicating trouble ahead in the taste department. We kept in mind that this tea was for a Russian market. They often steep tea up strong, set a potful atop a samovar full of hot water, then pour a little strong tea in a cup and thin with the hot water, adding honey or other sweeteners and enjoying with sweet pastries of various kinds. For our test, though, we needed to taste the tea by itself, not with anything added, at least for the first round. The tea in the cup was a deep ruby-brown and had an aroma that made my humans’ noses curl up in that funny way they do when the smell isn’t pleasant. Then they each took a sip. “Ugh!” was all they said.

Ever wanting to be fair and give a new tea every chance to please, they added a little milk and sweetener. It helped a little but not enough. And as the tea cooled even a little, the bitterness grew until it was totally unpalatable.

Lest you think this tea experience was a total loss, I will beg to differ. No tea steeping is ever a loss or waste of time. Each teaches us something. And this little teapot learned a valuable lesson – don’t travel to Russia – TOOOOT! Seriously, we all now know that this is a fairly low-grade-tasting black congou tea, definitely Chinese, not Assam from India. And my humans now also know that a cookie or two during a tea tasting is probably a good idea.

As for Ms. Jones, check out her Web site ( and her book of poems Distinguished Leaves: Poems for tea-lovers available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. My humans haven’t read it, but we all encourage you to check it out anyway. Hey, it’s about tea and selling rather well in the UK where they really know about tea. How can you go wrong? TOOOOOT!

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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tea Stories: White Tea from Africa via the Tea Journeyman!

Kevin Craig, the Tea Journeyman, takes us on a voyage to Malawi. Our vehicle is a very special white tea called “Bvumbwe Peony White Tea.” It’s similar to, yet different from, the tea we posted about here yesterday. Read on to see how.

One thing is for sure – this white tea is “tougher” than the other one was. That doesn’t mean that the flavor wasn’t as good. It indicates the leaf texture, especially after the 3 infusions were done. Some of the leaves were quite think and took a bit of effort just to tear them. A factor that accounts for this is the growing environment, one not far south of the equator on the African continent. The Republic of Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) is one of the smallest countries on the continent and is landlocked. This tea is from the area of that country called the Shire Highlands. It is south of Lake Malawi and is a gently rolling land at approximately 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level. This elevation makes the weather more temperate than would be expected in that equatorial zone. Warm weather with heavy rains and thunderstorms are typical from November through April. From May to September, there is almost no rainfall but wet mists float from the highlands into the plateaus. Here’s a view of the Satemwa tea garden where this tea came from, plus a photo of the dry leaves before steeping and a map from showing where Malawi is:

You’ll note in the dry leaves above a lack of buds (2 tightly closed tender young leaves enclosing a 3rd leaf). Also, the leaves are larger in size than they were for the previous tea, with plenty of stem pieces included. Their aroma was rather similar, though, with a “jammy” (apricot/raisin) quality. We used fewer leaves than the vendor recommended, thinking that the amount was too much. So our flavor results were rather light, but very enjoyable.

Like we did with that other white tea, we did 3 infusions using water heated to 180°F and times of 3 minutes, 3 mins. 15 secs., and 3.5 minutes. My buddy Li’l One Cupper did the steeping. The liquid from the first infusion was pale gold and clear. The flavor was sweet up front, followed by a plantiness like from a green tea. Overall, it was smooth and subtle. The next infusion was smooth, a bit sweet, and had a bit of vegetal quality in the undertaste. The last infusion was smooth, sweet, and pleasant. All 3 infusions had the remarkable quality of staying equally pleasant and free of any bitterness even when they had cooled considerably. In fact, you humans might like to try it chilled. Like the other white tea, this one was a pure pleasure.

Here are the leaves when we were done infusing them:

The leaves really swell up and, as I mentioned before, several were rather tough. I guess they have to be to stand up to the climate where they grow!

Where to buy: Bvumbwe Peony White 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.

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!