March 24, 2017

Mana Organics Assam

Another day, another Assam! Did you read yesterday's post about cupping Assam (and Uva) for tea school? I don't recall drinking lots of black tea as a child - children were given various herbs to drink - but there was a strong practice of drinking black tea with milk and sometimes sugar among adults. I wonder if exposure to the delightful fragrance of malty, milky black tea has influenced my black tea palate. I'm joking, a bit. I enjoy the Assam we have been drinking courtesy of Mana Organics. It's honestly good even if I did not favor this type of black tea.

The Mana Organics Assam is certified organic. The tea is graded FOP1 for flowery orange pekoe indicating presence of buds. The number 1 was assigned by the tea taster and this usually indicates that the tea taster found this particular batch to be special. This Assam is picked from the Chota Tingrai estate which began producing tea in 1943.

I partially followed the instructions on the foil lined pouch. I used 1 teaspoon and infused the leaves for 4 minutes. I have used both boiling water (specified) and 200F water. Boiling water is the better option. No volume was specified so I used 8 ounces. I did not add milk or sugar. I don't think you should.

The dark dry leaves with silver and golden tips smelled sweet and malty with notes of dark fruit and chocolate. The infused leaves had a brisk fragrance. The pretty coppery liquor did not offer up any discernible smell. But it was very flavorful. The tea was sweet, malty, brisk, and tart with chocolate and fruit notes. Perhaps the fruit flavor was date. I have been eating a lot of Medjool dates. The dry and infused leaves look like two different teas, don't they?

Tea provided by Mana Organics.

P.S. For more information about Mana Organics operations, read Sara's interview with co-founder Avantika Jalan at the Tea Happiness blog.

March 23, 2017

Cupping an Assam and an Uva

An Uva and an Assam mark the last in-class tastings for my ITEI tea course. The next time I formally prepare teas for the course will be during my blind test! Both Uva and Assam are black teas; the former from Sri Lanka and the latter from India. Assam is made from the large leaves of Camellia sinensis var. assamica which was discovered in the region. (Puer is also made from C. s. var. assamica but from the Da Ye cultivar.) Uva is one of the three "major quality growing areas in Sri Lanka" (Gascoyne et al., 2014). Gardens in this province produce either mid-grown or high-grown tea depending on their location on the slope. In this way, Sri Lankans are like the Taiwanese in distinguishing their teas by elevation.

Both the Uva and the Assam I drank were orthodox teas. The Uva was uniform in leaf size and color without any detectable fluff or stems. I did not observe any buds so I would think this tea's grade is OP for orange pekoe. The Assam leaves were broken and not of a uniform size. Buds were present but not in a high amount. I was asked to assign a grade to this tea and I offered BFOP for broken flowery orange pekoe.

I dominant smell, taste, and aroma of the Assam was sweet. The dry leaf smelled malty and sweet. The specific forms of sweetness one should detect in an Assam are honey, spicy, and blond tobacco. In the liquor I detected a spicy/vanilla tail note and the infused leaves smelled like chocolate in addition to malt. But I did not discern blond tobacco. The Assam was a fairly complex tea. The liquor look full bodied and that was reflected in the taste. The liquor was malty, brisk, acidic (not like a lemon), fruity sweet, woody, and the aforementioned vanilla spicy. I infused 2 grams in boiling water for 3 minutes using a professional tasting cup.

I used the same steeping parameter for this Uva. This tea was more elegant in appearance than the Assam and the liquor looked like it would taste flavorful. The liquor was not as sweet as it looked or smelled. The fragrance of the dry leaves was fruity sweet as well as smelling quite similar to a horse barn which is not the same as other types of barns. The liquor was not full-bodied and the flavors dissipated quickly. The dominant flavor of this tea was herbaceous. I detected a spicy tail note, though, once the liquor cooled. This is not a black tea for milk. I would recommend milk and sugar for the Assam but it's quite fine served plain. Do you drink you black tea with milk?

P.S. I was asked to describe my experience with the Uva today and I described it this way: the dry and infused leaves and the liquor look like a black tea. However, if I had tasted this tea sight unseen I would have guessed it was a green tea because of the herbaceous quality. What kind of green tea? I don't know yet. I'll have to drink more of this tea.

March 16, 2017

Favorite Tea Ware - Gabie of Tea End Blog

As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the chasen to the yixing teapot. Everyone has their favorites! This series showcases the favorite teaware of folks in the tea blogging community. I am kicking off this FTW 2017 with tea objects from Gabie of Tea End Blog. Gabie is a self described tea sipping bookworm who enjoys tea in her cup and the written word. She is the blogger behind Tea End Blog, a blog of tea and book reviews, alluring imagery and informative articles about the tea plant and literature. Sipping happily ever after is her forté and she asks any and all who have a love for tea and books to join in!

Rose Confetti Vintage Royal Albert Tea Cup

When I decided to start sipping tea and reading books again, it was a decision made to regain a part of myself that I had lost. I am sure all giving and loving women can relate! I wanted to give myself a special gift for having decided to be true to myself and I thought an authentic bone tea cup like the ones I owned before, when I had the habit of showing my love for tea, would do the trick. I searched high and low until I found an adorable bone tea cup in the most quintessential feminine color and laden with roses. The history and charm of the company drew me in and I had to have a cup of tea in Rose Confetti Vintage Royal Albert Tea Cup. I purchased my cup from Amazon and I have been sipping happily from it ever since.

Robin-egg Blue Teakettle

This exquisitely blue teakettle also found its way to be in the early stages of It had been years since I had owned a teakettle and I wanted one that was functional but also pleasant to look at. While browsing on my favorite online store (Amazon) I found the Robin-egg Blue Teakettle that you see above. Isn’t it so rustic and lovely? Although the whistling of a teakettle can be enchanting, I enjoy that this particular teakettle does not sound the alarm considering that I am an early riser and my husband is not. I use this teakettle every morning and don’t see myself ever being able to live without it.

Hario Chacha Kyusu Maru Tea Pot and Infuser

Tea cups and teakettles are fine and dandy but without a proper infuser I wouldn’t get past the tea bags. Delving into tea again required that I open myself up to all that tea had to offer, including and definitely not limited to loose-leaf. I vacillated between a simple ball to the most intricately designed infusers and decided upon the Hario Chachu Kyusu Maru Tea Pot and Infuser purchased from I love this infuser and use it every single day to prepare loose-leaf. It serves as, not just an infuser, but also a personal tea pot. I also use it as my staple image for “The Sip” when performing Tea Reviews. It’s been with me from the beginning of Tea End Blog and I don’t see it going anywhere else besides my tea tray anytime soon.

Traditional Bone Inlay Serving Tray

I don’t think tea and reading time would be truly complete without a tray. How else would you get your teacup, tea pot, tea snacks and books all in one comfy place at the same time? You see the dilemma…(smiling). I almost never shop in stores since online shopping is my thing, but there was one store in Dallas, TX that drew me into its charm named Wisteria. I walked in and delightfully browsed until my eyes stumbled on a tray fit for a tea sipping and book reading queen! I looked at the price: $700! Oh, no… I can’t afford this…I looked again: Sale: $250…still not something I am willing to pay and then I looked up to see another tag: 90% off! Yes! To the counter I went! I paid approximately $25 for a perfectly pink Bone Inlay Serving Tray that I use often in my photos for Tea End Blog but also in my daily tea and reading time.

Inspirational Elephant Tea Mug

Last but not least: My Favorite Tea Mug. I certainly saved the best for last because the story behind this mug may leave you wondering if the tea fairies wish us happy tea sipping (lol). One day while shopping for various tea wares in an eclectic market in Dallas, TX I started to feel a little down. I am a perfectionist and if things aren’t going perfect (which they never do because nothing is perfect) then I feel as if all my hard work is for nothing and all the hard work in the future will be for nothing. Dramatic I know…I’m working on it. Well, I kept looking and found an elephant shaped mug that portrayed the elephant’s trunk as the handle. No…not for me…I respect the elephant too much to hold his trunk as I sip (like I said, I’m dramatic, lol). Then I found the mug you see above; simple, elegant and the elephant portrayed is in all of her elephant-y glory. I turned the mug around to see what was on the other side and it read: “One Step At A Time”. Perhaps the tea fairies really do watch over us…

Thank you participating in the series, Gabie. Your enthusiasm for tea and her tea objects is infectious.I have been steeping my teas western style lately and like how low the infuser sits in the Hario glass teapot. 

March 10, 2017

Nepal Tea - Nepalese Organic Tea, Part 1

I considered titling this post: Jersey City represent! Nepal Tea LLC is based in Jersey City, NJ. While I've never lived in JC, I am a Jersey girl. The company brings to the market, Nepal's "first certified organic orthodox tea". The teas are from Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center in eastern Nepal bordering Darjeeling. Teas are grown in the foothills of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Kanchanjangha Tea Estate was founded by Mr. Deepak Banskota in 1984 but his son Nishchal Banskota transformed it into the social venture, Nepal Tea LLC, in 2016. You can read more about the company's evolution here. Also, the Nepal Tea Kickstarter campaign, to expand their social projects and to build a tea warehouse in Jersey City, surpassed its original goal.

The teas provided to me by Nepal Tea will be reviewed in two parts. Today's teas are Prakash White, Kumari Gold, Kanchanjangha Verde, and Kanchanjangha Noir.

Prakash White

This white tea is described as light bodied with "strong vanilla top-notes, bring blossoms and melted butter flavors". I read the official tasting notes after drinking the teas. Prakash White reminds me of a Bai Mu Dan. It is lush with notes of honey, summer meadow, and hay. I infused 2 grams in 8 ounces of 185F water for 4 minutes. The temperature I used was hotter than the recommended 175-180F with a 1-1.5 minute cool down period.

Kumari Gold

The first thing I noticed about this tea was the abundance of buds -- look at all those golden tips!. The liquor of Kumari Gold was a deep gold and smelled of baking. The liquor did not have a thick mouthfeel but it was flavorful with sweet, fruity (like warm grape skins), and baked notes. As the tea cooled, a pleasant astringency emerged. Separate from this drying effect, the cooled liquor reminded me of Oriental Beauty. I infused 2 grams in 8 ounces of less than 212F for 4 minutes. The temperature recommendation is 206 but I think this tea would do well steeped in 195F water.

Kanchanjangha Verde

I was excited to try both this and the Kanchanjangha Noir as they are named for the mountain where the tea farm is located. The dry leaves of Kanchanjangha Verde smell like nuts and savory vegetables. The leaves are colored shades of green with some stems present. Infusing 2 grams in 8 ounces of 160F water for 2 minutes yield a pale green yellow liquor that smelled of honey. The tea's taste was consistent with the smell of the dry leaves - vegetal, nutty with a honey finish, and a noticeable mouthfeel.

Kanchanjangha Noir

The liquor of the Kanchanjangha Noir was shiny amber and smelled like chocolate ganache. It tasted like chocolate, brioche, and dark fruit which was the fragrances of the dry leaves. I infused 2 grams in 8 ounces of 200F water for 4 minutes. I would suggest a slightly longer steep time and less water for this tea. These two changes would improve the mouthfeel but would leave intact its smoothness. For all the teas, I would suggest that the steeping directions be printed on the pouches, even the sample packs.

I fancy the Kanchanjangha Noir. I have enough left of it and the other teas for an additional session. I will definitely finish the samples. I have four more teas to try to stay tuned for part two.

All teas reviewed in this post were provided by Nepal Tea LLC.

March 08, 2017

United States of Tea - Mauna Kea Tea, Hawaii

This post grew out of a couple of impulses. One was to explore tea grown in the U.S. I was gifted teas grown and processed in Oregon by a friend, enjoyed them, and wondered if there were other tea farms making similarly enjoyable tea. I came across Elyse Petersen's article for the Daily Tea titled "Grown in the USA" and more recently found Tony Gebely's round up of "Where tea is grown in the United States". The second impulse was an interest in business partners who are also life partners after reading Inc.'s 6 Inspiring Couples Proving You Can Mix Work and Love. I reached out to several tea companies and Kimberly Ino of Mauna Kea Tea was the first person I spoke with. Read our interview below.

Kimberly and Taka did not initially set out to start a farm but they both loved tea. The two met in college as environmental science students. Taka is from Japan while Kimberly grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Kimberly and Taka travelled and during this time discovered their love for Hawaii. They acknowledged that the island offered a nice growing climate but neither was ready to settle down. They lived in Japan for a couple of years before marrying in 2004. Shortly before relocating to the land that is now Mauna Kea Tea farm, the couple backpacked, and discovered, China. Kimberly pointed out some of the contrasts between Japanese and Chinese tea, including Japan to have more streamlining with less variety than the great world of China, where they found their inspiration.

Kimberly and Taka bought land on the Big Island not knowing what they would grow. Taka enrolled in a tea growing class offered by the local agricultural research station. Within a few months, they planted their first cuttings. Kimberly noted that at first it was trial and error. They did not have access to any formulas for making tea in Hawaii. Taka chose to process their teas in a Chinese style but developed a recipe that suited teas grown in Hawaii that would appeal to the American palate. Mauna Kea Tea specializes in green teas. Their oolong is lightly oxidized, similar to a pouchong, but will be phased out this year in favor of producing blends using other Hawaii grown ingredients. Most of their sales are wholesale with accounts at restaurants, local natural food stores, and gifts shops. They sell retail at the farm, on their website, and at community events.

Mauna Kea Tea is a true partnership. Kimberly and Taka have assumed roles that best fit their skill sets. Kimberly is the operations manager. She manages finances, sales, marketing, order fulfillment, and packaging. She also leads the farm tours. Taka is the grower, tea maker and producer. Since the farm has hired staff, Taka spends less time on the ground, so to speak. He also leads the IT and graphic design components of the company. In addition, he is the farm's "philosophical advisor"; he has developed a business structure that reflects their core values of community, growth, excellence, giving, and innovation.

Although their focus has been on a more Chinese style of processing, Taka trained in a Japanese Tea Instructor program to understand how to evaluate teas objectively. Alumni of the program have helped Taka to refine his process and to "make tea better and better". Compared to when they started the farm 11 years ago, today there are more resources for tea growers, in this region, through the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture. The college has been involved with tea growing on the Big Island for 20 years and has conducted economic feasibility and best growing methods studies among others. Many growers rely on the college because there is not a lot of external information, in English, about how to grow tea and how to grow it in Hawaii. Even on the Big Island, there is a lot variability in elevation, soil types, and other environmental factors.

Before closing, I asked Kimberly for her predictions of tea. Although somewhat doubtful, she hopes to see tea drinkers seek out more information about the teas they are drinking, where and how they are produced, and choose authenticity in locally grown products with production methods you can trust.

We opened and ended the interview with talk about our children. Her sons like tea; they drink it as a family, it's always part of their routine.

My thanks to Kimberly Ino for the opportunity to learn about Mauna Kea Tea. All photos used with permission of Mauna Kea Tea.
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