Wednesday, August 27, 2014

White Peony (Bai MuDan) Tea

I recently got a goodie bag from Teavivre with some of their teas they say will cool me down with their "cooling effect". I was pretty intrigued by this "cooling effect" claim so I decided to do a little bit of research. The cooling effect is something that is a part of traditional Chinese medicine; actually there is a lot of effects to Chinese medicine. One can get a warming effect (a rise of the body's internal temperature), a cooling effect (a drop in the body's internal temperature), and a neutral effect (No change to the internal temperature). While I have noticed the effects of the warming energy of tea, I've always attributed this to the temperature of the tea itself. According to Chinese Medicine, its not and that is very interesting to me. Reading further, I learned that some teas are better suited for certain times of the year due to their energy released into the human body. In the spring/summer(warm months), it is best to consume white tea, raw puerh, and various other green tea/oolongs. In the winter(cold months), it is best to consume aged/cooked puerh, roasted oolongs, and generally darker liquor teas. Traditional Chinese Medicine is something that is complicated, to me, but is interesting to see what plants/herbs/tea can "heal" the body with its specific energy.

Borrowing from Teavivre!
Moving on, I picked out a tea that I enjoy when I am really thirsty and want a light refreshing brew; White Tea. I haven't had Bai MuDan before but due to my experience with Silver Needle, I had a general idea of what I would be tasting. I picked out a smaller gaiwan (100ml) and decided to put the full 5g sample in because having 2g left over is sort of a hassle, plus I usually like my tea on the stronger side. The leaf itself is totally different from the silver needle but there are a few needles in the mix of leaves.  The smell of the dry leaves are quite nice. Earthy-Hay-maybe a little dirt. It may sound un-appealing but I know that this is gonna be a good flavorful pot of tea! The color is a light yellow with orange hues. More then likely this is because of the oxidation that occurs in the processing.

Borrowing from teavivre!
Using 180-190 degree water, I did a fast 5sec steep that I dumped out. I wanted to clean the leaves and wake them up for their full potential. Second infusion was about 10 seconds. The color was a nice pale gold color with the un-mistakeable smell of hay. White Tea liquor reminds me of being on our family farm as a child. Earthy flavors power through with a slight hay like sweetness that is comparable to sucking on a real piece of hay. I have no idea why or how white tea gets this flavor profile but it really does make me nostalgic for simpler time when I was running through fields and climbing in barns. The viscosity of the liquor is wonderful and thick! Its almost syrupy. I'm sure this is mostly due to the amount of leaf I used. I get 5-6 good infusions and the color starts fading into 2 maybe 3 OK infusions. I kept the infusion about the same due to how much leaf I was using. Ive always felt that white tea doesn't really have a long infusion life though.

Now back to how I feel internally; I do get this sense of being cool after I drank this tea. It is an odd sensation. Ive noticed that sometimes when I drink high roasted teas before bed, I have trouble cooling down and can even sweat during the night. With this tea, I did feel cool even though the 80 degree/80% humidity here has been hellacious. Its not a miracle tea and its not going to make you cold but you do get a feeling of being cool/comfortable. Its a very subtle feeling that makes me want to pay more attention to what effects the tea has in those little precious leaves.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm on the Darjeeling express!

Darjeeling, Darjeeling, you give me a wonderful feeeeling!

Earlier this week I decided to stop by my local loose leaf tea shop to catch up with the owner and check out her new seasonal offerings. After talking over a cup of my favorite pineapple herbal tea, she showed me to the tea wall to see if anything caught my interest. Most of her teas are the typical teas you would find in a local tea shop, basic and un-interesting to most (they play well to the general public) but every now and then she will pick up some premium stuff for the people who enjoy "finer" teas. This time she had some nice first flush darjeeling black tea and moonshine darjeeling. Being a black tea "noob", I had almost no knowledge about the tea at hand; All I knew was that it is an Indian tea and some of high end first flushes can demand a pretty rupee.

As an oolong drinker, I tend to stay in the large tea classification because I can drink anything from neon green oolong to charcoal crispy oolong and never really get bored. There is so much variety in oolong I haven't felt the need to look anywhere else. I have always seen darjeeling advertised as a black tea but I was informed that darjeeling also has a broad spectrum of flavors and prices. "The Champagne of Tea" can range from a white tea sort of brew to a dark typical black tea broth and because of the way its processed, it is technically an oolong tea . Darjeeling tea undergoes a hard wither which causes an incomplete oxidization; an oolong "guideline" of sorts.

Darjeeling tea is picked in 5 flushes (harvests) but most tea drinkers outside of India only see 3-4 of the 5. Here is a description of all the flushes.(Taken from Wikipedia)
  • "First flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light color, aroma, and mild astringency.
  • In between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
  • Second flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavored cup.
  • Monsoon or rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between second flush and autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.
  • Autumnal flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour."
  • While doing my research on darjeeling, I kept seeing a word I haven't seen before; muscatel. Muscatel is described as a flavor that is unique to the muscatel grape and is spicy and sweet. Its actually kind of hard to describe but when you taste it you will understand. "
    Darjeeling First Flush

    Now, with all that fun stuff out of the way, lets get to tasting! Like I was talking about before, I got an ounce of 1st flush Darjeeling for a whopping $15 and some change from a local shop. Quite pricey but not the most expensive Ive seen. The tea is pretty to look at. It looks like tiny twisted wuyi oolong leaves. The smell from the dry leaf is amazing; it is earthy and has a smell that is hard to place... as odd as it sounds, it is sort of musky like an old book.

    Just so you know, I had no idea how to brew this tea when I sat down at my tea table. I decided to brew in a gaiwan with a 1:1 ratio of leaf to water; in my experience this is a good starting point. The next decision was water temperature. With it being a "black tea" I thought off boiling was appropriate. Being cautious, I did one quick flash rinse for about 5 seconds. The broth wasn't strong at all and only had a very very slight flavor. Next was a 30 second steep which produced a beautiful golden liquor with an entrancing smell. The flavor of darjeeling takes you places within your mind. It took me to a high mountain region over-looking valley full of fog with rows upon rows of tea plants.  a beautiful sunrise creeps up past the mountains to envelope the land in rich honey colored warmth. Beautiful--pure beauty.

    As to the flavor of Darjeeling, its hard to describe well. I got hints of spice, moss, and typical "black tea" flavor from the first few sips but there are other flavors that are so subtle I cant even describe them. Little hints of fruit/vegetal flavors dance back and fouth behind the dominant spicy moss. It does tend to finish pretty astringently but not as astringent as some green teas. Lets just say its awesome and I cant wait to try the other flushes.

    Next infusion was 45 seconds and produces another infusion as tasty as the last. Nothing new in the flavor profile, that I can detect, but still as enjoyable. I did two more infusion on the leaves adding 15 seconds per infusion. These last two are tapering off in flavor (and color) but I don't mind as the liquor is still rewarding in its own way. As someone who did not expect to like black teas at all, I was pleasantly surprised by this tea. In my mind black tea is this bitter over sweetened drink that is overabundant here in the south but this has completely changed my mind. The delicate flavors darjeeling tea gives are truly unique and completely give the ability for a immersing experience. If you haven't had a darjeeling tea before, consider picking up a little bit to expand your tea horizon.

    Pictures later today!