September 21, 2017

In Pursuit of Tea Tasting Session, Countryside Edition

Traveling to tea-producing countries is on my bucket list. In the meantime, the next best thing is visiting the New England countryside to taste tea with In Pursuit of Tea. Jee, Sara, and I spent an afternoon last weekend with Sebastian and Ana drinking tea at a historic train depot on a riverbank and in a second-growth forest. At the depot, we ate sandwiches from a local market and drank a silver-needle-style white tea from India. Before heading to the woods for more tea, we walked down to the river and oohed and aahed like city folk at the picturesque scene: a white wooden building with bright red door and a man standing mid-stream, fishing.

Past cow-filled pastures and onto a narrow, rocky road in the woods we stopped at a clearing. We shed our shoes to walk on incredibly spongey moss and looked at turtles and dragonflies in & around a man-made pond. Thirsty for tea, we sat in an indoor nook of the cabin and drank a Darjeeling 1st Flush, a Shan Lin Xi, a Gui Fei, and a hong cha. The Gui Fei was incredibly aromatic. The dry leaves smelled like guava and the liquor like caramelized guava. I served the hong cha, the Bang Dong Hong from White 2 Tea. My hands were shaking because of nerves and from the heat of the gaiwan full of rolling-boil-temperature water.

My hands cooled off when we moved outside and Sebastian and Ana resumed pouring. We continued the tea session with a shou, a Darjeeling 2nd Flush, and a sheng with leaves sourced from near Menghai. For me the dry leaves had a layered fragrance of stone fruit and cow barn. We capped off the day with a delicious dinner including hyper-locally foraged black trumpet mushrooms.

This tasting session wasn't an explicit lesson in tea pairing but I learned a couple of combinations: dried fruit goes well with many different types of tea and both types of puer pair well with brie (and walnut bread).

It was a treat to travel further afield for tea. I look forward to doing it again, soon.

September 19, 2017

TeaVivre Fuding Shou Mei White 2012

The more popular Chinese white teas, I would argue, are bud heavy, whether all unopened buds as in Yinzhen/Silver Needle or a buds and small leaves as in Bai Mu Dan/White Peony. Shou Mei is a third  type of Chinese white tea and it's made from mature leaves. I didn't know this before re-reading the section on white tea in Joseph Uhl's The Art and Craft of Tea, but Shou Mei is considered the lowest grade of Chinese white tea. Luckily for us tea drinkers, TeaVivre has a very good Shou Mei in cake form. I received samples of the 2012 cake from the company this summer. Here are my notes on tea.

The dry leaves are mostly large in appearance and tobacco brown in color. Larger and darker leaves are interspersed throughout as are silver buds. The leaves smelled like paper and dried grass. The sample I annotated for my review was 9.15 grams. I prepared a 3-gram piece and a 6-gram piece separately. For the smaller piece I steeped it in 200F water for 3, 3, 4, and 5 minutes. The liquor of the first infusion was pale gold and tasted like the smell of freshly pressed linen or cotton. The tea was mild in flavor and in body.The second 3 minute infusion produced a honey-colored liquor that taste like honey, flowers, hay, and cloth-bound books. The floral and honey sweet notes reminded me of an oolong. The tea was thicker in body, too. I used too much water for the third infusion (4 minutes). The final infusion (5 minutes) had a hint of sweetness of stale dates.

Using a more leaf, less water, and shorter infusion times yielded the better experience with this tea. I infused the 6-gram subsample in 200F water starting at 1 minute and adding 30 seconds for each subsequent steep until 3 minutes to which I added 2 minutes for the final steep. After infusing the leaves the first time I smelled roasted and burned sugar notes. The liquor was sweet grass, freshly ironed cotton, paper, and creamy tail note. The second infusion was medium-bodied and viscous as it slipped over my tongue. Sweet notes of hay, paper, and nuts lingered on my palate. The third infusion (2 minutes) was fantastic! The tea was sweet and thick with notes of warm hay and linen. A creamy texture lingered and there was a fruity tail note, though I can't tell you what fruit. The liquor from the fourth infusion tasted like a mild dian hong and this smooth, creamy, and cocoa profile carried over into the next two infusion and were joined by a bright, red fruit flavor. The final infusion was a wash.

Bud only and bud + two leaves plucking styles get a lot of glory in the tea world but you won't be disappointed with this mature leaf white tea.

Two samples of Fuding Shou Mei White 2012 were provided by TeaVivre.

September 18, 2017

Tora Ceremonial Matcha

The image of a tiger roaring out of a forest is an interesting one for a matcha that is as smooth tasting as Tora Ceremonial Matcha. Going back to the tiger again, another reason I was surprised to see a tiger on the package of a Japanese tea is that tigers are not found in Japan. But, they used to be. Tigers from Indian migrated to and established populations in Japan during the Pleistocene but the Japanese tiger subspecies became extinct "at some unknown time".

This ceremonial matcha is made from leaves harvested in Kirishima in Kagoshima Prefecture which is 879 km (546 miles) southwest of Uji, the famed source for great matcha. The Tora matcha is packaged in a brown, resealable, foil lined pouch. On opening the pouch, a sweet, creamy puff of matcha powder was released. It should be a delightful experience, opening up a new package of matcha. This one was. The powder was a lively green though the photo shown here is a macro shot which portrays it more brilliant than it was in reality. I prepared the matcha a couple of times for this review with slight modifications to the given instructions.

Matcha Preparation - Tora's Instruction
  1. Add 1 tsp (2 g) of matcha to an empty mug or tea bowl. I added 1 sifted teaspoon to a warm chawan.
  2. To avoid clumping, add a small amount of cool water and stir or whisk matcha into a thick paste.
  3. Add 2-3 fl oz of hot water (160-175 °F) and stir or whisk briskly until a light green foam appears on the surface of tea.
The taste of the liquor was consistent with the smell of the matcha powder. It has all the elements I crave in a matcha: sweet (but not as sweet as the powder smells), creamy, grassy, and umami (but not as rich I prefer). The umami of this matcha is borderline asparagus. Bringing the bowl towards me to drink, I smelled matcha milk chocolate bar. The bottom of the cup where the thicker liquor resides produced a dark chocolate tail note.

Really look at the photo above. I used too much water to prepare this cup but was still able to get a decent layer of froth. One of the lessons I've learned from whisking matcha is to measure precisely the amount of water. I typically prepare usucha which is thin matcha but too much water even by a seemingly small amount can produce a less than desirable cup. While Tora Ceremonial Matcha is not from one of the better known matcha producing areas, I have been happy drinking this tea and would say it's a good candidate for a daily drinker.

Matcha provided by Tora Tea.

P.S. Looking to read more about matcha? Check out Eater's A Definite Matcha Taste Test.

August 31, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: Green Tea and Mochi

The Tea Pairing 101 collaborative is back. Jee, Sara, I are enrolled in a tea sommelier course with International Tea Education Institute (ITEI) and we created Tea Pairing 101 to practice and to share what we are learning. The first installation in the series was a white tea and cheese pairing. Today I will share our green tea and mochi pairing. If green tea has the longest history, why was white tea pairing our first segment? We are using a sequential approach based on two factors: the amount of processing Camellis sinensis undergoes after plucking to become a specific type of tea and the level of oxidation. White tea is the least processed tea; there are two steps to make a white tea are withering and drying. Green  tea is the least oxidized tea; the oxidase enzyme is purposefully "killed" early on in the tea making process by pan firing (Chinese process) or steaming (Japanese tradition).


Lie Sangbong provided their skylit Blank Space art gallery for our tasting. On exhibit at the time of our pairing were portraitures by Dutch artist Nemo Jantzen.


The green teas we infused are classic tea styles in their respective countries. I list them here in the order we tasted them which was based on the recommended water temperature for steeping.
Mochi Rin provided three types of kofuku (or bite-sized mochi).
  • Strawberry with rose mochi: fresh strawberry / white bean paste / mochi skin tasted with rose water / black summer truffle and a rose petal
  • Fresh fig and pistachio mochi: fresh fig / pistachio paste / mochi skin tasted with black mission fig balsamico
  • Black warabi (bracken) mochi: adzuki bean paste / black warabi (bracken) skin / cinnamon kinako (roasted soybean powder)


We infused 3 grams of leaf of each tea in a professional cup for 3 minutes using the vendor's suggested water temperature. Three grams produced a robust cup of tea in each case.


The dry leaves of this Hosen Sencha smelled deliciously and simultaneously savory, sweet, creamy, and malty. The leaves were flat and needle shaped and dark green in color with lighter green highlights. The shiny, yellow-green liquor was cloudy in appearance (as to be expected). The thick, full-bodied liquid was tasted of steamed asparagus.

Long Jing

Typical of Long Jing, long, flat yellow-green leaves smelled sweet and nutty. The infused leaves shared a consistent smell with the dry ones. The pale gold liquid was shiny. Using a 3 gram weight the liquor veered towards a walnut skin bitterness. (I prepared this tea at home using the short, multiple steeps method with a gaiwan. This Dragonwell exhibited an almost refreshing liquor with roundly savory notes complemented by a mild sweetness, overall roasted (not charcoal) nuttiness, and a slightly drying finish.)


The wiry leaves of this Korean tea were many shades of green and smelled equal parts fresh, grassy, and of grains. The infused leaves exuded nuts. The yellow-orange liquor was medium-bodied with nutty and roasted flavors but a lingering sweetness on the lips.


The fig mochi was the best in pairing for each green tea.

Pairing fig and Sencha led to the realization that fig seeds are very flavorful. The Dragonwell was sweeter paired with the fig and the tea enhanced the dark sweetness of the fruit. The Woojeon-fig duo introduced the so-called "third flavor." Together, the pairing was earthy, in a good way. My second favorite mochi was the strawberry and it paired best with the Woojeon.


Experimentation is important in tea and food pairing. Before this tasting, I would have been inclined to select something with savory notes to pair with green tea. The best of the pairing was fig, a deeply sweet fruit. Don't discard your savory preferences when thinking about green tea, though. Consider mixing sweet and savory/salty foods, for example a plate of fig and prosciutto, as an accompaniment to your cup of green tea. If you don't like either, look to what's in season right now. Peaches are peaking now, and baked peaches, I like the simplicity of a galette, have a similar depth of sweetness to fig.

As always, thank you to my collaborators Jee and Sara. Read their tea stories at Oh, How Civilized and at Tea Happiness.

P.S. For a digestible reference about tea, check out Tony Gebely's excellent summary of tea types, styles, and processing. Are you interested in enrolling in a tea course with ITEI? Use the NOTESONTEA10 discount code when you register.

August 18, 2017

Tillerman Tea Oolongs

I am starting this tea review with a shout out to David Campbell of Tillerman Tea. I haven't met David but I had heard good things about him and his company so I was pleased when he reached out to me to taste his teas. I accepted and began to drink them as soon as they arrived. However, I was not able to review them in a timely manner as other parts of my life crowded out this type of activity. I was surprised then when David contacted me again with an offer of a second batch of oolongs. By including this story here I do not mean to imply that other tea companies are not similarly generous. If anything, it is a reminder to myself to be more generous with my acknowledgements of tea companies who make my passion for tea possible.

Dong Ding Winter 2016

This review is about that first batch of oolongs: Oriental Beauty 2016, Dong Ding Winter 2016, and Cuifeng Gaoshan Spring 2017. It was easy to drink and assess the Oriental Beauty and even the Cuifeng which I don't think I had drunk before. The challenging tea for me was the Dong Ding. I've been drinking a Dong Ding or Tung Ting from a local vendor and Tillerman's version did not taste the same. The dry leaf was aromatic but this quality did not translate into the liquor. I thought I had mislabelled the teas during my tasting so I infused a new cup (albeit with less leaf) but the results were similar: a mild flavored liquor.

One of the first questions I asked myself was: what is the quintessential flavor profile of a Dong Ding? Also, does this profile change with season? I also wondered about plucking style because when I thought I had mislabelled the Dong Ding and the Cuifeng, a quick confirmation would have been to study the leaves, but assuming oolongs are plucked with a bud and three leaves, that approach would not have been helpful, or would it? Does the bud and three leaves pluck apply to all oolongs? I think there were other questions but the three I've just mentioned were the most outstanding ones. I did not conduct extensive research but I consulted by go-to tea book titled Tea by Kevin Gascoyne et al., my ITEI lecture notes, and read around the internet. According to Gascoyne et al., the liquor of Dong Ding smells "powerful[ly]...of lilac, vanilla and clover honey" while its aroma is of "narcissus and peony...against a background of ripe peach and butter". These tasting notes were echoed on various websites even for winter harvest Dong Ding. I don't know how to explain my experience of this tea.

Cuifeng Gaoshan Spring 2017

Where the Dong Ding was mellow, the Cuifeng Gaoshan was intensely aromatic and flavorful. Tillerman's Cuifeng was harvested from Li Shan. This mountain range is the tallest tea mountain in Taiwan at 6,550 to 7,900 feet. I won't use Gascoyne et al.'s tasting notes here; instead, I will use mine.  I prepared this tea twice. Once with 3 grams in preheated cups with 195F for 3 minutes and a second time with 2 grams keeping the other parameters the same. The lemon-green colored liquor was floral and savory where the dry leaves were creamy. The liquor was medium-bodied at a minimum with a creamy mouthfeel. Sweet and savory notes were present and pronounced on the middle of my palate. A lemon note emerged as the liquor cooled. My notes for the second session are quire similar. The liquor was floral and creamy though not as thick as the tea made with 3 grams. The flavors lingered in my mid-palate and in my cheeks with a citrus tail note. The depth of flavor increased as the liquor cooled.

Oriental Beauty 2016

I don't need to note that this tea is a summer harvest, right? Oriental Beauty may not have have geographically protected status but it definitely can't be harvested outside of summer which is when the leafhoppers bite its leaves catalyzing the release of that desirably aromatic hormone. This OB has a medium presence of buds with leaves of fairly uniform size colored in various shades of brown. The dry leaves smelled of dried cherry and grape must and the infused leaves only got better with honey, herb, fruit, and warm spicy notes. The taste of the liquor was consistent with smell of the infused leaves. It was a complex, many-splendoured cup of tea.

Tillerman's Oriental Beauty is such a classic where the term indicates a very good experience. Given the richness of the Cuifeng Gaoshan, this green oolong would be suitable for colder months as well as for warmer months. Too, you could prepare it hot with more leaf and iced or cold steeped with less leaf. One of lessons I have learned from drinking tea is the individuality of one's palate so although I found the mild nature of the Dong Ding confounding, you might find it a palate pleaser.

Thank you again to Tillerman Tea for the oolongs for review.
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