September 25, 2020

Naoki Matcha Ceremonial Grade v Limited Edition Chiran

Matcha from left to right: generic matcha; Naoki Fragrant Yame Blend Ceremonial Grade; Naoki Master's Collection Limited Edition Chiran Harvest


Not all matcha is created equal and one way to distinguish quality is the color of the matcha powder. I received two matcha from Naoki Matcha for review. Here I contrast them with a matcha I ordered from a bulk nuts and seeds company. I have enjoyed many matcha lattes made from this bulk order company, by the way.

Matcha is a Japanese green tea. Leaves destined to become green teas are not oxidized in order to maintain the leaves green color. Matcha is a unique green tea. The entire leaf minus the veins and stems is ground to create the tea powder we whisk into a froth and drink. Three weeks before the leaves are plucked, tea plants grown for matcha production are 90% shaded to increase the production of chlorophyll which is the pigment involved in photosynthesis and the coloring of green leaves.

A darker matcha powder means a better matcha tea. What does "better" mean? In addition to color which indicates that the leaves were well shaded for a long period of time, there is the matter of taste. Beyond the primary notes of vegetal, marine, and umami, high quality matcha should exhibit other flavors and aromas. I learned about matcha, Japanese green tea, and other teas in an ITEI course.

 I found the Naoki Fragrant Yame Blend Ceremonial Grade to be floral and fruity "with a thick body and underlying smooth umami." I would recommend this matcha for people new to matcha. It's sweetness makes it very palatable and easy to drink. 

On my Instagram feed, I wrote that the Naoki Master's Collection Limited Edition Chiran Harvest 2019  is not for beginners. I am sticking with this assessment. Although matcha is only made from the leaf blades, this matcha tastes like it was produced from the leaves, veins, stems, and roots. The matcha is full bodied but smooth. I don't subscribe to drinking tea for health. But, I felt like the tea was infusing my cells and powering me up. This matcha does not have a sweet profile which is why I don't recommend it for beginners. I think OG matcha drinkers will enjoy it and newer matcha drinkers can drink up this thick matcha.

April 22, 2020

Podcasts about Tea


I was not a regular podcast listener until the end of last year. Before then, I would listen to shows via their websites. Two good examples of this are This American Life (TAL) and Gastropod. I still listen to the TAL episodes on the show page instead of subscribing to the podcast.

The first show I downloaded to the Podcasts app was Ken Cohen's Talking Tea to listen to the "Chemistry, Climate Change, Bugs & Tea" episode featuring Eric Scott aka "Leafy Eric." I had to re-install to app on my memory-strapped phone, so this endeavor was a big deal but worth it. I am not a climate scientist but I am very concerned about the impacts of human-induced climate change on biodiversity and human well-being. It was fascinating to hear Eric talk about the effects of this phenomenon on tea. In this portion of the episode he talks specifically about bug-bitten tea. Oh, Oriental Beauty! Eric also goes deep into the science of oxidation versus fermentation versus post-fermentation. In addition to the Eric Scott piece, I also recommend these two Talking Tea episodes: "Pairing Tea and...Cheese?" with Lisa Boalt Richardson and "Teapots, In Depth with Scott Norton."


The podcast library on my phone is 12 shows strong. Included in these 12 shows are two other podcasts about tea: My Japanese Green Tea and Floating Leaves Tea. Have you drunk oolong from Floating Leaves Tea? They are excellent. Typing this I realize it has been several years since I drank oolongs from this tea company. I should remedy this situation. The Floating Leaves Tea podcast is an unaffected and sensory conversation and tasting between Shiuwen (founder) and Noah (apprentice). Oriental Beauty is the subject of an entire episode! I want to eat a spicy lunch and drink a pot of OB ASAP. Unfortunately for me, my cupboard is empty of Oriental Beauty.


You might be familiar with Ricardo Caicedo's blog, My Japanese Green Tea. His podcast bears the same name. I appreciate Ricardo's spare, mellow writing style on his blog. His podcast demeanor matches his blog voice. Ricardo's website is a fantastic guide to Japanese green tea. The podcast reiterates some of the blog's content and broadens the scope of what people think and know about Japanese green tea. I like to eat a snack when I drink tea. Lately I am drinking a lot of sencha so the "Pairing Green Tea with Cheese" with Robert Wemischner episode is one of my recommendations. What do you think of this advice from Robert Wemischner?
Start with the tea you love and start with the cheese you love...try putting them together.
Please recommend your favorite podcast about tea or your favorite episode of the podcasts I've featured in this post.

February 21, 2020

Cultivars in Taiwanese Black Tea Production


All tea is made from Camellia sinensis and its varieties (var. sinensis, var. assamica). One of the main differences among tea types--white, green, yellow, oolong, black, etc--is processing. White tea is the least processed tea with two steps from plucking to finish. Green tea undergoes the least oxidation thus maintaining the green color of the leaves. Chinese versus Japanese green teas differ in how they are withered; Chinese green teas are pan fried while Japanese green teas are steamed. Oolong runs the gamut of oxidation from minimally oxidized green oolongs to highy oxidized dark oolongs. Finally, black teas undergo the greatest degree of oxidation which is responsible for the dark color of the leaves and the flavor profile (briskness, brightness, astringency, and strength, per Uhl (2016)) of the final tea.

Cultivars also play a key role in the flavor profile of teas. Cultivars are bred to produce specific tea types and styles. For example, leaves of the Longjing #43 cultivar are used to make one of China's most famous green tea, Longjing or dragonwell tea. There are 100s of tea cultivars in Japan, and tea producers match the properties of the cultivar to the profile of the tea they'd like to create. In this post, I review two Taiwanese black teas courtesy of Eco-Cha Teas. These two black teas are illustrative of the effect of cultivar in tea production.

Related Link - Tea Cultivars - 12 Chinese Tea Cultivars


Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea was made with Qing Xin cultivar which is known for its aromatic profile. This cultivar is used to make Taiwanese oolongs such as Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding, Ali Shan, Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty), and Li Shan. For this tea, Qing Xin leaves were harvested in June and processed as black tea. The farmer who made this tea also makes Dong Ding. The standard Dong Ding is floral and vegetal with a creamy texture. This small leaf black tea did not taste like a green oolong. It drank like an Oriental Beauty.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea were variable in size and color. The infused leaves smelled like Oriental Beauty. The liquor was honey colored. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first infusion tasted like Oriental Beauty. It was honey sweet and fruity with notes of brioche bread and dried apple rings. The 4-minute infusion was also very good. The final infusion was sweet and floral.


Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea

Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea was produced from cultivar T-18, a hybrid of a Burmese var. assamica tree and a southern Taiwanese wild tree (Gascoyne et al. 2011; Eco-Cha Teas). T-18 is the standard cultivar used to make Taiwanese black tea. This cultivar is grown in the Sun Moon Lake region. Its flavor profile has a strong note of mint.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were consistent in size and color. The infused leaves were sweet and minty. The liquor was orange-red. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first cup was medium to full bodied with sweet, minty, malty, and dry cocoa notes. The 4-minute infusion was equally delicious. The final infusion was like drinking the minerals and woods of the forest. Next time, I hope to detect dark, dried fruit flavors.

I steeped each of these teas four times. The second infusion was accidentally done with 175F water producing liquor of lighter character though the Red Jade had more intensity than the Small Leaf.


The Takeaway

A couple of things were striking about this tasting. One, a black tea can taste like an oolong. How should I be categorizing Oriental Beauty oolong? Second, a black tea produced from a cultivar traditionally used in oolong production had no hint of green oolong flavor. The processing method overrode the bred characteristics of the cultivar.

I highly recommend both teas. If you are enjoy Oriental Beauty, then choose the Small Leaf Black Tea. If you like breakfast blends, then pick the Red Jade Black Tea. The latter would be a great choice in the morning or with afternoon tea.

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea and Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were provided by Eco-Cha Teas for review.

December 05, 2019

Tea Shops in Greenwich Village, NYC


Thinking about the tea scene in New York reminds me of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” song. Every type of tea is represented in NYC. Every type of tea has made it here. The NYC tea scene has something for every type of tea drinker. This walking tour of tea shops in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan highlights the diversity within the major categories of tea and the breadth of tea cultures.

Image: Tea and Sympathy c/o Oh, How Civilized

Tea & Sympathy
108 Greenwich Avenue
website: teaandsympathy.com

Our walk starts with British tea culture at Tea & Sympathy on Greenwich Avenue whose logo is “All Things British.” Tea and Sympathy is a grocer and a restaurant. You can purchase British groceries and teas in the market. The adjoining restaurant serves afternoon tea and British breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert staples. Reservations are accepted for Monday through Friday. Walk-ins are welcome on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is cosy so expect to sit close to your companions and other guests.


Te Company
163 West 10th Street
website: tecompanytea.com

Tucked into the triangular micro-neighborhood south of the Jefferson Market Library is Te Company, a tearoom owned by wife and husband Elena & Fred. Only pure full leaf oolongs from Taiwan are served here; 22 pure teas to be exact. The shop also sells "bespoke blends." A limited but incredibly delicious menu is offered. If it's on the menu, I highly recommend the tortilla de patata. The famous pineapple linzer cookie can be purchased on the website. I've enjoyed many tea sessions here with family and friends.


McNulty’s Tea & Coffee
109 Christopher Street
website: mcnultys.com

Moving further west and back in time is McNulty’s Tea & Coffee. Our previous stop, Te Company, opened in 2015. McNulty’s was founded in 1895! It’s hard to imagine tea and coffee co-existing well in the same space, but McNulty's is known for both. The shop was awarded Best of New York in the Tea Shop category in 2012 by the NY Daily News.


DAVIDsTEA
275 Bleecker Street
website: davidstea.com

DAVIDsTEA differs in a couple of ways from the teashops we have seen so far. It is an international chain. The company was founded in Canada. The décor is contemporary bright and white. Unlike Te Company for example the focus is on blended teas. The brand is known for its seasonal teas and accessories. One of my favorite infuser mugs is from DAVIDsTEA. The mug is heat sensitive; the exterior color changes in response to hot water.


Luv Tea
37A Bedford Street
website: luv-tea.com

Luv Tea is tucked on Bedford between 6th Avenue and Carmine Street. I have only been to the tea shop once or twice. I should go more often. The tea shop is on a route I take regularly and its specialty is Taiwanese oolong, which is one of my favorite types of tea.


Sullivan Street Tea & Spice
208 Sullivan Street
website: onsullivan.com

Tea and spice and everything nice is what you'll get at Sullivan Street Tea & Spice. Walking into the shop is like a dose of aromatherapy. The owners describe the store as “a new shop with old world charm.” I imagine there were many more shops like this in 19th century New York City. You can order hot tea to go, buy tea, spices, and herbs in bulk, or join the monthly tea club. When I want to warm up between errands in the neighborhood, I stop in and order a cup of tea. Lately, I have been sampling my way through their black tea catalogue. I appreciate that I can purchase an ounce of tea to start then commit to a larger quantity. Also, it's good for the local economy to support local businesses.


Bosie Tea Parlor
506 LaGuardia Place
website: bosienyc.com

Bosie Tea Parlor moved from Morton Street to LaGuardia Place this year. Bosie Tea Parlor's new location is larger and more sophisticated. You can drink your tea at the bar or opt for more space at one of the tables. Bosie carries teas from l'Âge de Thé. You can purchase tea online and pick up in the shop. I haven't visited the new space--read my review of afternoon tea at the former location--but I'm happy Bosie stayed in the neighborhood. It's great to have an affordable afternoon tea spot downtown.


Can't get enough tea? Stretch this Greenwich Village tea walk with T Shop at 247 Elizabeth Street and Harney & Sons  SoHo at 433 Broome Street. T Shop owner, Theresa Wong, shared her favorite tea ware on this blog. Break on through the east side with three popular East Village tea spots: Setsugekka Matcha Teahouse, Tea Drunk, which I reviewed in 2013 , and 29B Teahouse.

September 30, 2019

Camellia Sinensis Flower

Image: Camellia sinensis flower by Reji Jacob

I am not a trained botanist but I am very interested in botany. I spend a lot of time looking at the flowers of trees. As a tea drinker based in the northeastern U.S., and one who hasn't traveled to see tea gardens or farms, I have not seen the Camellia sinensis flower IRL. Thankfully, I can access images of the flower on the internet.

Image: Various types of tea leaves by Damitr

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant. The plant is categorized as a shrub or small tree, though it's listed as a shrub in the Kew database. All true tea is produced from the leaves of C. sinensis, its varieties and cultivars.

Image: Camellis sinensis tea blossom in Hangzhou by Kuebi

Image: Camellia sinensis fruit on Maui by Forest and Kim Starr

The flower of the tea plant, not to be confused with blooming teas, is a perfect flower having both stamen (male reproductive parts) and pistil (female reproductive part).  The tea flower has many stamens surrounding a single pistil. If fertilization is successful, the ovary will develop into a fruit. The tea fruit is a capsule, botanically, meaning it is dry, not fleshy, and opens along a seam to release its seed(s).

The processed leaves of Camellia sinensis is one way that humans can consume this plant. I found several references to tea seed oil, made by cold pressing the seeds of species within the Camellia genus including C. sinensis. Are you familiar with tea seed oil? While you can't eat the flowers, they are scented. I would enjoy cut flowers of C. sinensis. I might try my hand at growing a tea plant for the flowers!
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