January 19, 2017

Smith Teamaker Darjeelings - First Flush vs Second Flush

You did not misread the title. This review is about Smith Teamaker's Darjeeling First Flush which I reviewed last November. And it's also about Smith Teamaker's Second Flush Darjeeling. Last week I conducted a comparative cupping with my ITEI tea school instructor. The first flush was harvested in mid-March from the Tumsong garden. The leaves have been graded as FTGFOP1. The second flush was harvested in mid-May, so technically not a second flush, from the Steinthal garden. I've been taught leaves plucked in June are considered the second flush harvest. This tea was also graded FTGFOP1. The acronym stands for Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. The number 1 was assigned my the taster to indicate the tea's specialness.

For both teas, I used professional tasting cups and protocol. Two grams of each tea were steeped in 212F water for three minutes. Here is my November 2016 profile of the Darjeeling First Flush:
The infused leaves smelled like green stems with floral and stone fruit notes. The liquor from the first infusion was a deep honey color, amber with a sweet smell which carried through to the taste. Accompanying the sweetness was a pleasant green astringency, a thigh mouthfeel, and a lingering stone fruit taste. With a second infusion, the color of the liquor deepened but it was less sweet and fruity. The green astringency was still there though it had spun off into a dryness on the tongue and fruity film on my top row of teeth. The end note like gnawing on the pit of a stone fruit. The third and final infusion was lighter in color and thinner in flavor and texture. The green astringency was mostly gone but happily the dry fruitiness remained.

Darjeeling First Flush Tumsong
Was my second cupping with this first flush different? This recent cupping was fairly consistent with the first one. The dry leaf aroma was fresh and green like freshly cut vegetation, but not grass. There was a light sweetness on the nose. The sage and moss green leaves interspersed with a medium presence of silver buds were wiry and under one inch in length. The infused leaves smelled of broken plant stems or like when you open a pistachio nut (the official tasting notes list pistachio as a flavor). The leaves smelled sweet. My instructor asked if I smelled white flowers. I did not. The shiny liquor smelled similar to the infused leaves. The infusion was a golden yellow peach color. It was stone fruity sweet and lightly astringent. There was a raw vegetable bitterness, too. The mouthfeel was not substantial but the flavors lingered on my palate and in my cheeks; it was a light to medium body tea.

Darjeeling Second Flush Steinthal
The dry leaves of this Darjeeling were much darker than the leaves of the first flush. They smelled baked, buttery, and sweet. This tea was not as elegant looking as the first flush. There was greater variety in leaf length and most of the leaves were short at under half an inch in length. I observed a low presence of buds. The infused leaves smelled of dark fruit and had a sweet darkly baked fragrance. This tea's bouquet reminded me on an Oriental Beauty. My instructor told me that second flushes have a muscatel aroma (smell plus taste) which can be described as "ripe grapes on a vine in summer". The color of the infused leaves was more uniform than in the dry form.  The coppery liquor was shiny and smelled similar to the infused leaves. The tea had a medium body with lingering flavors. It was tannic, astringent, and robust. I prefer milk without tea. To control the tannic and astringent notes of this second flush, I would prepare it using it a gaiwan with gongfu gram weight and steep time.

Pairing Darjeeling &Food
Typically I don't include food pairings with my tea reviews but my instructor presented me with the following scenario: your client serves morning brunch and afternoon tea. Which of these teas would you recommend? If the client desired, she could offer both teas. The first flush would pair well with a light afternoon tea while the second flush would pair well with a heavier afternoon tea as well as with a traditional brunch. If the client only wanted to offer one of the teas, I would recommend the second flush. It is the more versatile of the two teas. In terms of menus, apricot jam; creamy, salty cheese savories; and white chocolate or pistachio and apricot studded chocolate sweets at afternoon tea to pair with the first flush. Egg omelette, french toast, and raisin scones for a traditional brunch with the second flush. The raisin scone could also be offered at afternoon tea along with creamy cheeses, milk chocolates, and creme caramel to balance the tannic nature of the second flush.

What do you pair with your Darjeelings?

P.S. Check out my review of the Smith Teamaker Oriental Beauty.

P.P.S. The teas reviewed here were part of an Instagram prize pack.

January 13, 2017

LUPICIA Plantation Specified Teas

The twelve days of Christmas have passed and it does not feel like hot-tea weather in New York City. Temperatures have been rising and reached over 60 degrees F today! Despite all this, I've been drinking hot cups of LUPICIA plantation and original blends as well as flavored holiday teas all week. I am not enamored of blends but I enjoyed the one I drunk from the tea bag set. The box has a clever design feature: there is a pop-up of two rabbits when you open the box. Also, the individual tea packets from the Holiday Teas line are beautiful illustrated.

There were pure teas included in the tea bag set as well. The "Omaesama" sencha was quite good. The Darjeeling Second Flush, a blend of summer harvested leaves, was fantastic. The leaves in the tea bag were orthodox full leaf. I prepared this tea as directed in 5 ounces of boiling water and steeped it for 2 minutes then 3 minutes. The liquor was delicious! The tea was aromatic; it filled my nose and mouth with dark fruity, sweet, and baked flavors. It reminded me of an Oriental Beauty oolong. The liquor was robust yet smooth. I did not add milk and neither should you. There was minimal astringency. The 3 minute infusion reminded flavorful but with a lighter body and mouthfeel.

One of the three tins of whole leaf tea I received was Darjeeling The Second Flush. I assumed it was the same tea as was bagged in the pyramid sachet. I steeped this tea also as directed: 2.5 grams in 5 ounces of boiling water for 2 minutes then 3 minutes. In retrospect I should have used 3 grams, the higher end of the gram range. The light copper liquor had a similar profile to the liquor from the tea bag but the intensity of flavors and mouthfeel were noticeably lighter. The steam off the 3 minute infusion smelled like the taste of the 2 minute cup with the taste had a more herbal character.

The other two tins were La Belle Epoque, a "classic blended tea", and "Uji", a sencha. I did not record any of the occasions on which I prepared the black tea blend but I recall enjoying it and noting it would be a good daily morning tea. I have notes on the Uji sencha.

I prepared this sencha the way I did the fukamushicha from Art of Tea because the method was fresh in mind. I don't think this Lupicia sencha is a deep steamed tea. I infused 1 teaspoon of leaf in 3 ounces of 155F water for 4o seconds. I steeped the leaves three times. The first infusion was light, smooth, and creamy. The second was also smooth but the creaminess intensified. The liquor tasted creamy and displayed a creamy mouthfeel. An additional note of umami appeared. The third infusion was still smooth with an umami note but with a decrease in the creamy taste. The mouthfeel remained creamy but an astringent note emerged. I have not discarded the leaves and will steep them for a fourth time; I think I will get another flavorful cup.

Have you "rolled over" teas you were drinking late last year into these first two weeks of 2017?

P.S. Chill overnight your hot brew of the loose Darjeeling The Second Flush for a malty, slightly spicy drink.

January 10, 2017

Art of Tea - Silver Needle, Fukamushi Sencha, and Crimson Oolong

Last year Art of Tea celebrated its tenth birthday. Steve Schwartz, the company's founder, began his tea career studying at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. Based in Los Angeles, the company, writes the L.A. Times, "creates custom teas for the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Vera Wang, Hinoki & the Bird and a host of luxury hotels and restaurants". I became aware of Art of Tea when I was approached about a tea review. The company sent me three generous samples of Silver Needle, Fukamushi Sencha, and Crimson Oolong. The oolong is my favorite! You'll see why from my tasting notes below.

Crimson Oolong
The leaves were small, balled, and dark brown with golden flecks. They smelled fantastic; of cocoa and malt, sweet and floral, as well as something baked. After a cup or two the source of the baked note came to me -- spiced pain aux raisins. I followed the recommended method of 1 tablespoon of leaf steeped in 8 ounces of 206F water for 1-3 minutes. The first infusion of 1 minute was light gold in color and tasted like molten honey. This sweetness was followed by fruity, floral, and woody notes.  The mouthfeel was surprisingly light. The second infusion of 2 minutes was a much darker amber color. The liquid was thicker with darker fruit notes as well as cocoa and wood. The sweetness had deepened and was accompanied by a tartness that lingered in my cheeks. The end note was of pain aux raisins and I tasted this flavor in my throat. The final infusion of 3 minutes was not as thick as the second infusion but the flavors remained robust.

Fukamushi Sencha (Kirishina, Kagoshima)
The tasting notes for this sencha are grassy, pine, and umami. On my first preparation following the recommended method of 1 teaspoon of tea steeped in 8 ounces of 158F water for 30 seconds, the  yield was a thin liquor. The next time I prepared this tea I used 3 ounces of water and a steep time of 40 seconds per Ricardo of My Japanese Green Tea's brewing instructions for fukamushicha. This approach produced a grassy, creamy, and nutty tea with a lively green color and lots of particles by the third steep. This tea was more sweet than umami. I did use water that was hotter than 158F. Also, did you know that fukamushi means deep steamed?

Silver Needle (Fujian)
Again I followed the company's steeping protocol. I steeped 1 tablespoon of tea in 8 ounces of 185F water for 1-3 minutes. The first infusion was light in color and flavor but the second and third (2 and 3 minutes, respectively) were more deeply flavored and fuller bodied. The second infusion was the most aromatic. The official tasting notes are honeysuckle, artichoke, and sage. I know that artichoke is a standard flavor found in silver needle. Maybe what I tasted and smelled was like liquid artichoke hearts if you baked them yourself, not the marinated kind. The herbal note could be likened to drinking the hairs found on an herb like sage.

For me, the highlight of these three teas was the oolong. I had thought my next preferred was the silver needle but then I changed my mind after drinking the sencha that had been steeped in less water. Maybe I will change my mind about these two again if I prepare the silver needle differently. For all these teas, I recommend infusing in less water though the dark oolong (90% oxidized) was most forgiving offering lots of deep flavors even in 8 ounces of water.

January 06, 2017

What You Liked about Notes on Tea in 2016

Have you been reflecting on last year and making resolutions for this one? I haven't made any new resolutions for 2017. I will continue with the ones I made last year: to hand write more letters, to take better care of myself, and to discover and explore more teas.

I took stock of several aspects of the blog. After reading Tea For Me Please's post about the importance of accurate analytics, I queried the program for a list of the 10 most popular posts written in 2016.

Resolutions for 2016 + Teavana's Wellness Teas Review
Resolutions for 2016 + Paper Source Hello!Lucky Bird Stationery Kit Giveaway
Tea Review - Ippodo Tea Bag Set
Interview - Teplo Bottle Founders
Tea Review - Mizuba Tea Co. Matcha
Endangered Species Chocolate Bars and Spreads Review + A Giveaway
Tea Cultivars - 12 Chinese Tea Cultivars
Favorite Tea Ware - Kym Cooper of The Steepery in Australia
Ching Ching Cha Chinese Teahouse in Georgetown, Washington DC
Tea Review - Four Tieguanyin Oolongs

More than a third of the top 10 were reviews of tea or places. One fifth of your favorites were giveaways but I imagine you liked the content surrounding the prize. Another fifth were knowledge posts (interview and cultivar information). Although only one Favorite Tea Ware post written in 2016 made it in the top 10, this series has been well read since the first one with Jee Choe of Oh How Civilized in 2014. The last one of 2016 was published in October and featured tea ware from Jeff Cleary, the UNYtea Guy. Analytics provided great feedback. I will continue to provide the content that you like. I certainly enjoy researching and writing about the topics. One subject that didn't make it to the top 10 was tea and food. However, this is a nexus I am interested in so I will keep writing about it. I haven't shared my DC afternoon tea experiences. I will review a matcha cookbook in the early part of this year. I typically test and share recipes from the tea cookbooks I review. Check out this Matcha Breakfast Parfait from The Healthy Matcha Cookbook by Miryam Quinn Doblas. (If you are looking for a savory option, consider tea and cheese pairings developed by Cheeses of Europe and Bellocq Tea.)

I also looked beyond the blog. When you consider my Instagram content, your 9 favorite Instagram posts were leafy with more than 50% of the photos featuring tea leaves of various types and in various states! Starting top left and proceeding clockwise:

1st Flush Darjeeling c/o ITEI
Minto Island Tea Company Black Tea 2016
Minto Island Tea Company Steamed Green Tea 2016
Floating Tea Leaves Da Yu Ling 2016
At Te Company with Sara of Tea Happiness
L'Age de The China Beauty Rings
My first clay tea pot
Nilgiri Coonoor c/o ITEI
Japanese Green Tea c/o Shizuoka Tea Research Institute & pineapple linzer

I greatly appreciate your varied modes of support and participation. Best wishes for the new year and success in all that you do!

- Georgia

December 21, 2016

Nilgiri Coonoor - Indian Black Tea Cupping

Third time's a series! Thank you for following my cupping of Indian black teas. So far, I have written about Assam Banaspaty and Darjeeling First Flush. Today I present my experience with Nilgiri Coonoor. One of six taluks or subdivisions in the Nilgiris [sic] District, Coonoor is "known for its production of Nilgiri tea". Teas from Nilgiri are described as "well structured, slightly fruity and spicy" in Tea: History, Terroirs, and Varieties by Gascoyne et al. (2016).

This was my favorite of the three Indian black teas I cupped with my instructor. Why is this tea not more popular? I actually said to my teacher, "Why is Darjeeling known as the champagne of tea?" I hope I have not offended Darjeeling lovers. I still like to drink Darjeeling but the flavors exhibited by the Nilgiri Coonoor were surprising and delicious.

I cupped this tea using 2 grams in 212F water for 3 minutes. The liquor from the first infusion was golden amber, shiny, and translucent. The tea was medium bodied with sweet, peachy notes. The aromatic profile of the liquor seemed impossibly more fruity and floral than the leaves. The dry leaves smelled of musk and grape with a dark honey sweetness. The leaves were orthodox, quite long and twisted. I observed blond tips amongst the majority dark, ash gray leaves, which might indicate a Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP) grade. The infused leaves released sweet, woody, and fruity scents.

I read in Tea by Gascoyne et al. that gardens in the Nilgiri Hills are being abandoned or seeing less investment but that there are still a few growers who recognize the potential for high quality tea from the regions "particularly rich soil". I do hope so. If you have a Nilgiri Coonoor source you like, please let me know in the comments.
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