April 19, 2018

Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Teas - 2017 Summer Himalayan Shiiba

Today's post is second of two reviews of  Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Teas. The first review was of the 2017 Himalayan Orange Autumn Flush. Read on for notes on the 2017 Summer Himalayan Shiiba.


I'd like to start this review by again thanking fellow tea blogger, Tristan Jordan of Tea With Tristan, who kindly arranged for me to sample the 2017 Autumn Himalayan Orange and the 2017 Summer Himalayan Shiiba both grown on the Jun Chiyabari garden in Nepal and sourced by Kora Tea and Crafts.


2017 Summer Himalayan Shiiba 

The origins of this tea are Japanese. The Himalayan Shiiba tea is made from Camellia sinensis trees imported from the moutain village of Shiiba located in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Japan. The dry leaves are variable in size, lightly twisted, varying along the brown color spectrum with charcoal and khaki green leaves as well as silver buds present. The leaves were very dry to touch.

As with the Orange, I prepared the Shiiba in several ways:
  • Professional cup: 2.5 grams / 4 ounces / 200F / 3 minutes
  • Large ceramic teapot as recommended by Jun Chiyabari: 3 grams / 200 ml / 175F+ / 2 minutes, 1m, 2 m
  • Small kyusu: 4 grams / 70 ml / 200F / 20s; (dropped temp. to 190F) 40s; (transferred leaves to a 150ml clay pot) 20s, 30s 

Professional Cup

Steeping the leaves in a professional cup for three minutes yielded a golden liquor tasting green, sweet, and slightly bitter akin to biting into a stone fruit's pit. The tea was thick and layered with honey, fruit, and lingering spice. The second infusion of four minutes was full of deliciously unripe, fruit flavor.

Ceramic Teapot

I infused fresh leaves three times in a ceramic teapot. The first cup was the best of three. The tea was very sweet and floral with a grape must texture. The second cup was enjoyable. It was also sweet but with notes of green. The tea's texture was luscious once it cooled. The third infusion had a dry texture with a significant loss of flavor.

Kyusu (then larger clay teapot)

The dry leaves smelled like a semisweet brownie studded with dried fruits. Shaken in a warm kyusu, the leaves released a muscatel, fruit fuzz, pie scent. The first infusion tasted like a Taiwanese green oolong but with the green notes on the front and the floral and fruit notes on the tail. Even at this early stage, I realized that there was too much leaf in the pot. The Himalayan Shiiba is more voluminous than the Himalayan Orange. The next infusion yielded a bitter liquor which confirmed that the leaf to water ratio was out of proportion. I transferred the leaves to a much larger clay teapot and started with a short infusion. The tea was light in body, slightly fruity, and pale amber in color. There was a paper/linen tail note on the cooled liquid. The next infusion was disappointing.


The Takeaway

Unlike my experience with the Himalayan Orange, the kyusu was not the most successful mode of preparation. That honor goes to the professional cupping set. The Himalayan Shiiba is an excellent tea so do not take my failures in preparation as an indication of the quality of this tea. I am lucky to have enough of this to continue experimenting with gram to ml ratio, water temperature, and teaware.

April 09, 2018

Jun Chiyabari Himalayan Teas - 2017 Himalayan Orange Autumn Flush

If you think that tea coming out of Nepal is only CTC-processsed, think again. "Nestled in the heart of the Himalayas," Nepal is producing quality orthodox, loose leaf teas. I have been fortunate to drink two teas from the Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden sourced by Kora Tea and Crafts. Today's post is a review of the 2017 Himalayan Orange Autumn Flush.


Fellow tea blogger, Tristan Jordan of Tea With Tristan, generously arranged for me to sample the 2017 Autumn Himalayan Orange and the 2017 Summer Himalayan Shiiba both grown on the Jun Chiyabari garden in Nepal and sourced by Kora Tea and Crafts. The stories of Jun Chiyabari and Kora Tea and Crafts are impressive so it's worth briefly sharing them here. Jun Chiyabari was incorporated in 2000 after the reminiscing by two brothers, Lochan and Bachan Gyawali, about their school days in Darjeeling. The brothers purchased 75 hectares in Hile, and the garden officially opened in 2001. The company's first tea was processed by hand using a modified pizza oven which was designed by Lochan and Bachan! The company currently uses Taiwanese tea manufacturing machines. Kora Tea and Crafts was launched in Nepal in 2017. The owner, Aaron Basskin, is pursuing his Master's Degree in Translation and Textual Interpretation of Buddhist Texts. His tea pursuits are funding (and perhaps fueling) his studies. The fit between Buddhist philosophy and tea seems a good one.


2017 HIMALAYAN ORANGE AUTUMN FLUSH

The dry leaves of the Himalayan Orange were small, black or brown in color, with silver buds. The infused leaves were coppery and smelled like green stems and brown sugar.

I steeped this tea in three different vessels:

  • Professional cup: 2.5 grams / 4 ounces / 200F / 3 minutes
  • Large ceramic teapot as recommended by Jun Chiyabari: 3 grams / 200 ml / 175F+ / 2 minutes, 1m, 2 m 
  • Small kyusu: 4 grams / 70 ml / 200F / 30s, 40s; (dropped temp. to 190F) 60s, 1minute 20s, 1m 40s (190F), 2m, 3m, 5m


Professional Cup

Steeped in a professional cup for three minutes, the liquor was dark amber. It also had dark flavors, of wood, dry cocoa, and dark fruit. There was a slight, pleasant bitterness. It was medium-bodied with a lingering, warming spice note, and a drying effect. The second infusion of four minutes yielded a dark chocolate profile underlain by wood smoke on the tongue. The tea did not linger in my cheeks.

Ceramic Teapot

Imagine being surrounded by ripe tropical fruit. That was the taste and scent of the liquor from the first steep. Curiously, the tea was pale and light bodied. I increased the water temperature for the second infusion as recommended. The result was a much darker liquor with a more noticeable body. The tea was still incredibly fruity -- lychee, maybe guava. It also had toasty and sweet wood notes. As the liquor cooled there was pleasant bitterness that clung to my upper palate. The third infusion dropped in body. There was background fruit and sweetness, but the liquor was now dry not lush. It tasted like I was drinking peach-infused rocks.

As the leaves steeped, the air above the teapot was scented with notes reminiscent of Oriental Beauty. The liquor was golden amber.

Kyusu

I own a 70ml kyusu - I adore this small pot. It is pretty to look at with a creamy and crackled finish. Also, its size is perfect for small amounts of tea. Sometimes I find that using large amounts of tea in an appropriately sized larger teapot doesn't showcase the flavors of a tea.

Preparing this tea, especially the first infusion, was like stepping into a greenhouse of flowers (versus wandering through a meadow). I could not identify the specific flowers but it was a pleasant experience. The amber liquor and its steam were floral and fruity. The tea tasted tart on the tongue. It was medium-bodied with the texture of fine fruit-skin hairs. As the liquor cooled, the tea acquired creamy mouthfeel. The second infusion was drily sweet and thick. The liquor almost laid on the tongue. Although the infusions were very good, they were at a slightly uncomfortable drinking temperature. For the remaining seven steeps, I used a lower temperature of 190F.

"Loving this tea," is what I noted after the first sip of the third infusion. Dry, tart fruit paired with lush tropical fruit, especially when I aerated the tea in my mouth, were the forward flavors. On the nose as well as on the mid-tongue and palate were floral and brown sugar notes. There were chocolate and spice notes in the same places. The liquor was chewy and astringent.

The fourth and fifth infusions were spicy. The fourth was dry, astringent, and medium bodied. It was hairy and slightly chewy. I detected dried prunes, cherries, and charred vegetable skin. The fifth infusion tasted of char, wood, and bitter walnut skin. Cocoa and wood were the dominant flavors in the last three infusions. The final steep for me was the seventh but the leaves smelled like they could have yielded another cup or two.


My Favorite Preparation

From the quantity of words I have written for each preparation you might guess that steeping the Himalayan Orange in a kyusu was my favorite way to drink this tea. Each method produced good cups of tea but the particular combination of weight, volume, and steep time extracted the maximum aroma and flavor this tea had to offer.

March 30, 2018

Jamaican Bush Teas, Rooibos, and Other Tisanes

Growing up in Jamaica you could always find an herb or plant in your yard or at the market from which to make a tisane to refresh your body or spirit. Here I talk about the most common tisanes, also known as bush teas, from my childhood as well as the tisanes I drink as an adult living in the U.S.

Image: Momordica charantia, bitter melon fruit splitting open by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons.

Tisane is a French word by way of Greek and Latin and is also known as a herbal tea. There is no tea, i.e. Camellia sinensis, in a herbal tea or tisane. Instead, a tisane is made from various parts of a wide variety of plants. In Jamaica, "bush tea" was the colloquial phrase for tisane. When I was a child, I never heard the word tisane, and I wager that this was the case even outside Jamaica.

The most popular Jamaican bush tea, at least when I was a child, was made from the plant Momordica charantialocally known as cerasse. You may know the fruit as bitter melon. The leaves of the plant were used to make tea - steep the leaves in boiling water. It was a bitter brew but it did seem to ease many, often gastrointestinal, ailments.

Image: Fleur d’Hibiscus rouge, utilisée pour le Bissap by Olivier Epron via Wikimedia Commons.

Another common Jamaican bush tea was sorrel. I know this remains the case because you can find sorrel on the menu of many Jamaican and Caribbean restaurants in the U.S. There is sorrel and then there is Jamaican sorrel. The garden variety sorrel is Rumex acetosa and is used as a leafy green. The sorrel used to make the drink of the same name is dried hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa). This was my favorite drink as a child. Maybe it was available year round but I only remember drinking it at Christmastime. I've never made the drink but I trust recipes from Global Table Adventure; here's Sasha Martin's Jamaican Sorrel Drink recipe. Ginger is one of the ingredients. Ginger plays a companion or starring role in many bush teas. I distinctly recall a case of food poisoning as an adult for which my mother administered a ginger concoction. Effective. You can imagine that mint is also another go-to bush tea.

According to Jamaicansdotcom, fever grass (aka lemongrass), soursop leaf, and dandelion are common bush teas. These don't ring a bell but I can attest to the deliciousness of the soursop fruit (Annona muricata). The prickly skin of the fruit is off-putting but inside is a delightfully tart pulp. The sweetsop (A. squamosa), its cousin, is equally delectable but with a sweet, creamy fruit. It is known as custard apple.

My mother confirmed cerasse, sorrel, and mint. She added the leaves of orange and lemon trees.

My current days are full of teas of the Camellia sinensis kind but I do enjoy tisanes in the evening -- I am less tolerant of caffeine beyond the afternoon -- or when I am sick. One of my recent favorite recipes is the Chamomile Tea Latte by Oh, How Civilized. In terms of branded teas, I recommend Tahmina Saffron Rooibos, Tadin Tea Chamomile Honey, and Lifestyle Awareness Serene Slumber which is lavender based.

Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is southern Africa's "bush tea." Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning "red bush" referring to the red color of the processed leaves though there is a less processed green rooibos tea. Rooibos is the tea drunk by one of my favorite fictional women, Mma (Precious) Ramotswe of the The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. The Republic of Tea has a line of teas named for the book series. In this Epicurious interview, McCall Smith discusses his tea preference and those of his Batswana characters.

Image: Linden flowers

I haven't developed many tisane recipes of my own. I have steeped foraged linden flowers. I'd like to collect rose hips to make a syrup tisane (or maybe a soda). I have to verify that the source has not been sprayed. The same location has juniper berries. I saw a blackberry-juniper soda on a menu but the restaurant was out of the soda when I went to lunch there this week. Other botanicals of interest include sumac (it's supposed to taste like lemonade!) and pine needles (a resinous cross between rose hips and chrysanthemum). Did you know I like trees? We will have a spot in the community garden again this and I am planning a tisane patch.

Are you a frequent tisane drinker? Do you have any recipes to share with me?
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March 08, 2018

Tahmina Saffron Teas

A tea review to celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day! You can now enjoy variations on Afghanistan's prized tea, saffron tisane. Tahmina International offers three saffron-blended teas, and has recently added a spice line with pure saffron as the first item.


Before I tasted Tahmina Saffron Teas by Tahmina International, I watched the company's To Be Brave launch video. The cinematography and music are breathtaking. The video production highlights the gravitas of the company's mutli-facted mission: "to connect local farmers with international markets, employ Afghan women, and help develop industries that can be alternatives to the illicit drug economy." After watching the video, I knew I wanted to drink the saffron teas, and ask many questions.

Saffron crocuses in Khorsan, Iran by Vathlu via Wikimedia Commons
Before I share my tea notes, I'd like to provide a bit of botanical background. Some of you know that my other passion is trees. Saffron is not derived from trees, but it is harvested from a plant, the saffron crocus. A thread of saffron is a stigma from a crocus. Each crocus only produces three stigmas. The stigmas have to harvested by hand to maintain the integrity of this floral element. This aspect plus other harvesting requirements contribute to the high price that saffron often commands.



I selected the two of three teas, Saffron Chai and Saffron Rooibos teas. The third tea is Saffron Sencha. My favorite of the two teas I received is the Saffron Rooibos. It is anytime of day since it is a caffeine-free tisane. And more importantly, I enjoy the taste. The first infusion is thick and sweet. The second infusion yields a very warming liquor in which the ginger shines with a citrus note. This a comforting tea.


The Saffron Chai has a deep medicinal flavor and reminds me unfortunately of the molasses my mother would add to hot breakfast porridges.

Tahmina Saffron Teas are presented in biodegradable pyramid tea bags which are made in Seattle, Washington by Motovotano. The tea tins are also produced in the U.S. from recycled steel. Origins of the major ingredients are provided. Each of the three teas does include natural flavors. I asked about the farm-to-tea-bag chain so read the full interview below.

Interview with Tahmina International

In addition to sampling the teas, I conducted an interview via email with a company representative. I asked six questions (I had more), and am so grateful that they were answered so thoughtfully.

  • The Tahmina collective operates anonymously for safety reasons. What sparked and fuels your bravery given the political climate?

Life in Afghanistan is not as dangerous as most Westerners think, but living here has its fair share of risks. That risk is especially high for Afghans who work with foreigners. These Afghans historically have been targets for kidnapping for ransom, or they’ve been killed by extremist groups. At this point, the safety of these Afghans is more important than the public knowing the identities of our team members. If it’s this dangerous, why are we still here? Ultimately we have a deep confidence in the resilience of the Afghan people, and there are certain risks that we are willing to take if it means that we can see a better future for Afghanistan. Some of our team members grew up in or have parents who lived in impoverished, post-war societies that are now first-world countries. As individuals, we would not be where we are today if it was not for the international community willing to overcome certain dangers and believe in our future. We are confident that Afghanistan will be able to write a similar story of hope for its people.


  • You chose saffron because it is a prized tea with which to welcome guests in Afghanistan. Why did you choose to create blends (saffron +) versus offering a pure saffron tisane?

We’re actually launching pure saffron spice in a few weeks for all foodies and those interested in pure saffron tea! But we also decided to make tea blends because we realized that most Western consumers don’t know what saffron is, let alone how to use it. But everyone knows about chai and green tea, and many people already drink tea regularly. So we felt like saffron tea blends could almost be a “gateway product” to introducing people to saffron, and hopefully people will be inspired to explore more of saffron’s uses and benefits once they try our tea blends.

  • What are some daily/seasonal challenges of managing cultivation and harvest in conflict zones?

Fortunately, the region where our saffron grows is relatively safe in terms of terrorist attacks, so there are little daily risks for saffron cultivation. However, everyone knows that saffron is a lucrative industry, so many saffron farmers who have large fields are at risk of getting kidnapped for ransom. So during harvest season, farmers will hide their saffron under other crops when bringing them into the city, and most people who work in the saffron industry try to keep the saffron detail a secret. These challenges exist, but fortunately we’ve been able to see a stable and steady supply of saffron coming out of Afghanistan for the past few years. Many mentors and investors were concerned about the security of the supply chain when we first started. We’ve learned that there are challenges that come with a conflict zone, but with the right parameters taken running a sustainable business in Afghanistan is definitely possible.

  • Tahmina places an emphasis on girls and women. Can you describe some direct tangible effects of Tahmina's entry into the saffron market and from the company's 10% investment policy?

Tahmina has a pretty strong feminist voice. The name itself is from a common Persian girls’ name that means brave. Part of this emphasis probably comes from the fact that our founder is a woman and her friends and coworkers have so many deep experiences of women’s oppression in Afghanistan. The other part of it comes from the nature of the saffron industry, where more than 80% of the labor can be done by women. Last year, our local partner hired more than 170 women. We get so excited anytime we think about these women who are being empowered to earn money for their families when many of their peers are not even allowed to go to school or even leave their house. In terms of our donations, Tahmina has a policy of donating 10% of our revenue back into Afghanistan. We only launched at the end of October of last year, so we’re actually in the middle of organizing our first revenue. Most likely, this batch will be donated to a drug rehab center in Kabul, but you are welcome to follow up with us in a few months to confirm the final destination of the funds.

  • Related, what has been the pushback, if any, from Tahmina empowering girls and women through this economic development project?

So far, we’ve been lucky not to experience any hard pushback for women with Tahmina’s work in Afghanistan. We haven’t had the Taliban throwing acid in any of our girls’ faces, or the government outlawing women to work. But what is most difficult for empowering girls and women is the soft pushback of the culture. Deeply embedded in the minds of many conservative Afghans is the archaic belief that a woman is still considered property more than an actual human being. So that’s why even in the year 2018, some girls get married off when they’re 14, many wives are victims of domestic violence, and some men have up to four wives. As a foreigner, our founder usually experiences more respect and privileges than local woman, but there are still stories of sexual harassment in government offices, or simply not being taken seriously as a young, single woman in business. So the women who work in the saffron industry have already overcome a major challenge of getting permission to work from the male authority in their life. Our hope is that when more people see the power of their daughters and wives bringing income for their families, more women will be encouraged to have the freedom and independence to work.

  • In addition to saffron, are there other botanicals that Tahmina is considering for the purposes of tea making? Can you outline the farm to tea bag chain (where are the teas actually made before being packaged in the U.S.)?

Our saffron begins in the fields of western Afghanistan where it is planted, cultivated, and harvested during a small three week window. After it’s harvested, the spice is picked apart from the flower, dried, processed, and cleaned, and then shipped to Canada. We’ve partnered with a tea blending company in Vancouver called Blue Ocean Tea who then combines the saffron with our other tea ingredients. From Vancouver the blended tea is shipped to Seattle, where Motovotano, our co-packer, packages the tea into tea bags and the final canister product. Both Blue Ocean and Motovotano have been monumental in Tahmina’s initial product development and we’ve been so happy to work with them.

When we made the decision to go into saffron tea, we also researched Camellia sinensis cultivation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a few pilot projects from the past showed that the Afghan climate is not good for growing tea. Our team is researching some other teas and plants from other conflict zones, so if it shows promising we may be able to source other transformational products from other countries in the near future.



I recommend the Saffron Rooibos. You'll be purchasing a tasty tea with purpose.
Some of our team members grew up in or have parents who lived in impoverished, post-war societies that are now first-world countries. As individuals, we would not be where we are today if it was not for the international community willing to overcome certain dangers and believe in our future. We are confident that Afghanistan will be able to write a similar story of hope for its people.

I am grateful to Tahmina for answering my questions. I am inspired by their work and dedication.

Teas provided by Tahmina International for review purposes.

February 22, 2018

Global Tea Hut October 2017 Elevation Red Tea


I've been a fan of Global Tea Hut from a distance. From the blogs and social media accounts of other tea folks, I know of their in-depth articles about tea culture. These same sources rave about their teas. I did not hesitate to accept a a monthly box which included the October 2017 magazine issue, a tin of Elevation, a 2017 Old-Growth Sun Moon Lake black tea, and a clay tea pot scrub. Do you subscribe to Global Tea Hut?

I am keeping the October 2017 issue of the magazine! It's an excellent resource for a student of tea. Forty-five pages of the 62-page issue is devoted to sidehandle teapot history and ceremony. The feature follows the evolution in form and function of the sidehandle pot then provides a deep discussion of the sidehandle bowl tea ceremony including step-by-step instructions with clear photographs. The final section of the feature profiles two renowned artisans of the sidehandle pot -- Petr Novak and Luo Shi.


Now for the tea. I had many sessions with this tea, including "leaves in a bowl", and all the cups were delicious. I'm sharing details of my four-gram session here. I used 200F and poured to just cover the very long, dark leaves. The first infusion was very flavorful. The thick copper-colored liquor was has many notes: wood, leather, sweet. The second infusion was thicker. It tasted of sandalwood, leather, camphor, and a sweet spice. The third infusion had similar profile to the previous cup with the addition of a creamy texture. I noted that the was unmistakably a black tea at the fourth infusion. It was less complex than previous cups but it tasted like an accessible daily black tea. There was a slight bitterness in my rear cheeks. The fifth infusion (the third three-minute infusion) was tighter and drier. The flavors of wood, camphor, and spice were still present but the lush and creamy texture was no longer detectable. The sixth infusion was sweet and fruity this time. The liquor had a high, bright note. The final infusion was a 10-minute steep yielding a light-bodied liquor with a nutty sweetness. I transferred the leaves to a jar which I topped with room temperature water and refrigerated. Even after all of the many hot infusions, there was still flavor in the leaves.


This delicious red tea is perfect on its own, but if you like to eat a snack with your tea, I have two pairing recommendations for you. Peanut butter and jam on a thin brown rice cracker. A handful of roasted, unsalted almonds. If you try one or both, let me know what you think in the comments.

Magazine and tea provided by Global Tea Hut.
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