April 21, 2017

Teaful - Taste of Taiwan Chapter 2

Image: First infusion of Teaful's Ruby #18

Attention tea drinkers, 2017 is the year of Taiwanese black teas! At least in my book, and thankfully the second chapter of Teaful's Taste of Taiwan includes two black teas. One was a Ruby 18 and the other was an Assam, originally from India by way of Japan, grown in the Sun Moon Lake region. The other two teas are a milk oolong and a baozhong. I like the oolongs, who doesn't like Taiwanese oolongs?! But I really enjoyed the black teas. My local source for Taiwanese black tea is Te Company where I usually order the Petite Noir. Chapter 1 of Teaful's Taste of Taiwan had a high mountain black tea, a green tea, and two oolongs.

During the first session with each tea, I adhered to the instructions provided on each tea packet which is a vacuumed sealed foil bag. In terms of the amount of tea used, the information presented is use "a teaspoon or 5 grams" for 8 ounces of water. A teaspoon of tea often does not weigh 5 grams as I wrote about in my earlier post this week titled, How Much Tea is in a Teaspoon?. For example, a teaspoon of baozhong is 1 gram and of milk oolong is 2 grams. I used 5 grams of tea in all four cases. For the first infusion I used the lower end of the steep time given and increased subsequent steeps by 30 seconds to reach the maximum steep time given.


This fall 2016 green oolong was grown in Pinglin in Taipei County. The twisted leaves released a sweet and salty tasting liquor with sweet and very floral flavors. A second infusion revealed green and juicy flavors with a slight acidity. The final infusion was more vegetal than floral. The infused leaves had a mineral fragrance.

Milk oolong
Another fall 2016 tea this time from Minjian in Nantou County. The small tightly balled leaves unfurled to reveal shockingly large leaves. The dry leaves smelled like a milk oolong - creamy, grainy, and sweet. The first infusion's liquor was consistent with the smell of the dry leaves. The second infusion was less intense but the buttery mouthfeel lingered on my palate. I could still detect the sweet grain flavor. The tail note was all vegetal.

Ruby #18
Harvested in summer 2016 from Sun Moon Lake, this black tea has dusky black leaves with golden and red tips. The dry leaves smelled warm, sweet, and hoppy. The rinsed leves smelled of roasted yam and camphor. The amber verging on copper liquor of the first infusion had a big taste that was both sweet and bitter and reflected the smell of the roasted yam and camphor of the dry leaves. There was a bananas foster tail note (did I imagine this?) as well as spicy (read: cinnamon) top notes. The liquor was medium bodied. The second infusion was similar enough to the first one that I did not take notes while the third infusion became more camphorous with increased astringency and bitterness. In a subsequent session with this tea I did not experience any bitterness.

Like the Ruby #18, this black tea is a summer 2016 harvest from Sun Moon Lake. Wiry twisted dark colored leaves with reddish highlights smelled sweet, grainy, and spicy. The copper colored first infusion was rich tasting and medium bodied. The liquor was malty, brisk, smooth, sweet, and fruity - a lot of flavor in one tea. I could have added milk but did not. Oh, for this tea, I used 6 ounces of water and not 8 ounces as I did for the previous teas. You could used 8 ounces if you like but I appreciate the rich profile. The second infusion was still malty but brisker and thinner bodied. The third infusion was a well balanced cup of sweetness, malty, brisk bordering on bitter, and savory spices. Surprisingly it had more body than the second infusion and this cup's flavors lingered in my throat, a burned flavor of unknown origin.

Image: Second infusion of Teaful's Assam

The four teas in the this chapter of Teaful's Taste of Taiwan were very good in a second session where I used 2.5 grams of tea to 6 ounces of water (195F for the oolongs and 200F for the blacks). The black teas shone!

Taste of Taiwan Chapter 2 was provided by Teaful.

April 18, 2017

How Much Tea is in a Teaspoon?

Silver Needle courtesy of Art of Tea, 1teaspoon = 0.85 grams

Long Jing courtesy of ITEI, 1 teaspoon = 0.57 grams

Gyokuro courtesy of Arbor Teas, 1 teaspoon = 1.96 grams

Tung Ting Extra Fancy, McNulty's Tea & Coffee, 1 teaspoon = 2.38 grams

Ruby Oolong from Rishi Tea, 1 teaspoon = 2.86 grams

Thurbo 2nd Flush Darjeeling courtesy of Tea Dealers, 1 teaspoon = 1.12 grams

Diving Duck 2016 Sheng, White 2 Tea, 1 teaspoon = 1.09 grams

April 05, 2017

How I Made Kombucha with the EverBru Kombucha Starter Kit

When was the first time you tasted Kombucha? I lived in Berkeley, California in the early to mid aughts and drank a lot of kombucha I purchased from the Berkeley Bowl supermarket. By the time we moved to New York I was no longer drinking this type of tea. Last year I lived in Virginia and a friend there gave me one of her many SCOBYs to start a batch. I tried twice and neither batch was palatable. I wasn't detered, though. When Northern Brewer reached out to me to use their EverBru Kombucha Starter Kit, I was happy to try again.

What is Kombucha, and what is a SCOBY? Kombucha is fermented tea but it's not puerh. It is naturally lightly carbonated, sweet, sour, and tart. The etymology of kombucha according to Wikipedia is tea made from kombu where kombu is the Japanese word for a type of kelp which might have resembled the SCOBY culture. SCOBY is the acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It is mat of bacteria and yeast that is combined with water, tea, and sugar to create the beverage, kombucha. If you let the ingredients ferment for too long, you will end up with vinegar. It is hard to find quality information about the science of kombucha, and I'm not particularly interested in the health benefits, but you might find this NPR reporting on kombucha health benefits interesting as well as this journal article A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus.

With my EverBru kit I successfully made three batches of kombucha. There was a failed first attempt because the first SCOBY I received did not grow and divide. I used tea from my personal stash: first a Darjeeling, then an Assam which I flavored with cardamom, clove, and cinnamon, and most recently a gyokuro kuki hoji. The Darjeeling was our least favorite. The spiced Assam was better but I need to fine-tune to the ratio of spices. The kuki hoji kombucha received lots of thumbs-up. It is the sweetest of all three and the least vinegary. I supplemented the fermenters sugar with cane sugar from my pantry. The roasted stems kombucha is the most well-balanced with a nice acidity. I only left this batch to carbonate at room temperature for a few hours before refrigeration, but it has a gentle effervescence.

The kit includes everything you need to make a batch of kombucha, and remember, the SOCBY will replicate itself so you will end up with two mats at the end of the first round. The Little Big Mouth Bubbler which is the large glass vessel where the fermentation happens. A mini siphon and tubing. An adhesive thermometer. Muslin to cover the bubbler. A tea ball. Sugar. Loose-leaf tea. The SCOBY. And even a rubber band. As I mentioned before I used my personal tea. I still haven't opened the loose-leaf tea provided. The instructions are well written and illustrated. To make your sweet tea you add 1-2 tablespoons of loose tea to 1 quart of boiled water. Steep the tea for 5-10 minutes, remove the tea ball, then add 1 cup of sugar. For the first two batches I used the provided Fermenter's Favorites Sugar. While the sweet tea is cooling, add 3 quarts of water to the bubbler, then the cooled tea, then the SCOBY and its liquid which should measure 1 quart.

Cover the bubbler with a double layer of muslin and secure it with a rubber band. Don't forget to attach your thermometer to the bubbler now fermenter. The ambient temperature should be 72-80F. The spot I selected registered at approximately 75F and was not in direct sun. The fermentation period ranges from 7-10 days. I suggest tasting the brew at day 7 and every day until it reaches your ideal flavor. The SCOBY should start to double well before day 7. If it does not, you likely have a dead mat. My children enjoyed watching the siphoning of the brew. Siphoning works by gravity so elevate the bubbler/fermenter above the transfer vessel. Also, don't transfer the brew to your final storage vessel. I found that even if the siphon is not touching the bottom of the bubbler/fermenter (which is hard not to do if you are siphoning solo), you will transfer sediment and SCOBY bits. Transfer then strain into your bottle(s). Remember to set aside 1 quart of liquid to keep your SCOBY alive. I store my SCOBYs and their liquid in glass tupperware. For the kombucha, I initially used two swing top bottles, one growler size, the other small. Right before my third batch, I bought a large clamp top jar. After transferring the kombucha, you can flavor it. To carbonate your brew, store at room temperature for 2-4 days. Keep an eye on your bottles. Over carbonation can result in explosions; dangerous especially when dealing with glass vessels! I erred on the side of 2 days then stored my kombucha in the fridge. Two adults can drink 5 quarts of kombucha in a week or so.

There is one downside of kombucha making that I have found: the multiplying effect. Recall that the very first SCOBY I received did not grow so I was sent a new one. This starter SCOBY or "mother" simply grew, it did not reproduce. I used it make the first and second batches. It was during the second batch that it replicated. I saved the "mother" and used the replicated SCOBY to make the third batch. The replicated SCOBY replicated again so now I have three SCOBYs. I can really only brew one batch per week so I think I will need to figure out a long term solution. I am looking at making a SCOBY Hotel (yes, this is a thing) and/or dehydrating them. If you live in NYC and would like a healthy SCOBY, let me know.

The EverBru Kombucha Kit was provided for review by Northern Brewer.

April 04, 2017

Three Teas from Tea Dealers

I like that I am always surprised by the malleability of Camellia sinensis. From this one species (and its two varieties and of course, its many cultivars), you get a world of teas. Technically White Lotus Leaf (sourced from Korea) is not a tea but I enjoyed drinking it just the same, especially at night. Can you drink caffeine at night? I no longer can. Many years ago, I could drink coffee close to midnight and sleep well. Ah, changes. The two other other teas from Tea Dealers are their Charcoal Roasted Tie Guan Yin and Thurbo Second Flush Darjeeling 2016.

I almost exclusively drank the white lotus leaf tisane at night. I used 1 tablespoon steeped in 8 ounces of 195F water for 30 seconds. The directions specified 1T/5g but 5 grams would be a lot more than 1T of leaf. The liquor has thick mouthfeel on the first infusion. The pale liquor tastes very sweet and the steam smells sweet as well. I am reminded of hot malted barley and corn on the cob. This tea is warming and calming.

Switching countries but not continents: the roasted tie guan yin from Maokong in Taiwan. In the case of this tea, 1 tablespoon equals 5 grams. I used the recommended 8 ounces of 195F water with an initial 30 second infusion and additional steeps of 10 seconds. I'll say here that with 8 ounces I did not get much a substantial tasting liquor until the third infusion. The fourth infusion was golden colored with a sweet taste of syrup on pancakes and caramel. The fragrance of the infused leaves was chicory and dark roasted coffee beans. As the liquor cooled, the roast became more pronounced but it remained sweet not savory or bitter.

Moving south to Darjeeling: Second Flush from the Thurbo Estate. This tea is graded FTGFOP1 or Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1 meaning that this tea not only has a lot of buds but it is of fine quality and the taster designated its specialness with the number "1". The dried leaves smell of the fuzz on warmed grape skins. The leaves ranged in color from dark brown to khaki green with silver grey and light golden tips. I infused 5 grams in 8 ounces of 195F water. I assumed a neat preparation which called for a 30 second infusion and no milk would be too light for my palate so I steeped the leaves for 60 seconds. The first infusion was sweet. The amber liquor tasted like guavas and grapes. I was happy with the extended steep time for this neat preparation. This infusion was well balanced especially as it cooled. The second cup, also 60 seconds, was sweeter with woody notes, and noticeable but pleasant astringency. I guess you could call it briskness and at this point you might consider adding milk, but I did not. The liquor was creamy on my lips and the sweet fruity guava and muscatel flavors were still present, if not heightened. The third steep of 70 seconds was a whisper of the previous infusions.

I don't have a clear favorite among these teas (and tisane). The range speaks to the versatility of Camellia sinensis, and in the case of the white lotus of plants, in general. Drink the white lotus leaf at the time of day you are most sensitive to caffeine or if you need something to satisfy a sweet tooth. Drink the Darjeeling neat in the morning. Tea Dealers charcoal roasted TGY is not the first one of its kind that I've drunk. I find this style of tea challenging to prepare. I know how to steep tieguanyin but the additional layer of the charcoal roast complicates the matter. You want to find parameters that  allow you to enjoy the qualities the roasting brings but not have it overwhelm the oolong's traditional flavor profile. So far, Ive found that infusing 1 tablespoon in 4 ounces of 195F for 3 minutes and increasing infusion times by 30 seconds delivers delicious results.

All teas reviewed in this post were courtesy of Tea Dealers in Brooklyn, NY.

April 03, 2017

Low Altitude Teas with High Elevation Flavor

I had heard my tea instructor mention several times that tea growers in Japan overcame the country's lack of elevation by shading their teas during the final four to six weeks of the growing cycle. Recently in a Skype class with another student she asked me if I knew of another tea that rose above its low grown status. I didn't. I asked for country of origin. She said Taiwan. I still didn't know. Do you know? It's Oriental Beauty. I am a big fan of OB. I guess I missed the part of the Taiwanese tea lecture where she spoke about the elevation at which this oolong is grown. I did not think Oriental Beauty was a "gao shan cha" or high mountain tea but I assumed it grew at a high enough altitude to produce its flavorful profile. By the way, to be considered a gao shan cha, a tea plant needs to be grown at 1000 m (3,300 ft) or higher. Actual Taiwanese gao shan cha are Ali Shan, Shan Lin Xi, Li Shan, Da Yu Ling, and Hehuan Shan.

What is it about high elevations that produce exceptionally flavorful teas? Here is an explanation from TEA by Gascoyne et al. (2014).
The weather conditions at high altitudes are obviously different. It is colder, which slows the growth of the tea trees but increases the concentration of aromatic oils in the leaves. In addition, thick fog filters the sun's rays in the morning and at night, as well as during part of the day, thus reducing the amount of sunshine to a few hours each day, resulting in the plants producing young, extremely dark-green shoots that contain more amino acids and nitrogen compounds. Moistened by this fog, the leaves are also more tender and, unlike leaves that grow at lower altitudes, they remain supple, which is a good quality for further processing.

Back to Japan. Japanese teas are covered to reduce sun exposure to which plants respond by producing more chlorophyll and amino acids. The resulting chemical composition and physiology of these leaves resemble leaves that grown on high elevation tea plants. Shading ranges from 0 to 90%; sencha is produced from unshaded tea gardens, kabushecha from 50% shaded gardens, and gyokuro and matcha from 90% shaded tea gardens.

Oriental Beauty is not grown in shaded conditions so what is its flavor tactic? The leafhopper Jacobiasca formosansa also known as small green leafhopper, tea green leafhopper, or tea jassid. This insect occurs at low elevations and feeds during the summer. The injury initiates the oxidation process and eventually confers the floral, fruity, sweet, spicy (think baking spices) flavors associated with Oriental Beauty oolong.

I don't know of other low altitude grown teas that are renowned for their flavor. Please share any I've missed in the comments. Did you know that Sri Lanka distinguishes its teas by altitude? You may have read this factoid in my post about comparing an Assam and an Uva.

P.S. For more information about Oriental Beauty, read two posts by Tea Masters: Hsin Chu county Oriental Beauty and A study of Oriental Beauty.
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