Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Category: Tea Features Page 1 of 23

The White Teas of Araksa

The Araksa Tea Plantation is, by its own website’s declaration, one of the oldest in Chiang Mai province, Thailand. That’s not to say that it’s the oldest garden, or the oldest processor of teas. But by modern, Western-ish tea garden standards, that appears to be true.

Image owned by Araksa.

Araksa—which in Sanskrit means “Preserve”—was first plotted in 1939, utilizing assamica trees (by clone or seed) that grew plentifully in the area. Northern Thailand has a rich history of tea processing, dating back as far as the 1200s. Sheng puerh(-like) tea is the stock and trade for some of the Thai hill tribes in the area. But more established plantations were a rarity.

Like many such enterprises, though, this particular garden was abandoned, likely due to shifting economic whims. As a result, the garden went feral for several decades. It wasn’t until 2014, when the garden shifted to new owners, that tea production of a sort resumed. However, making tea alone wasn’t the sole emphasis.

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The Black and White of Benifuki

Benifuki is an interesting Japanese tea tree cultivar. For one, it’s a cross between a cultivar heralding from the assamica variety, and another cultivar of the sinensis variety. A cross-breeding of this sort was to create a high-yielding cultivar designed for black tea and oolong production. Back in the 1960s, and even further back, Japan hoped to make black tea to compete with nearest rival, Sri Lanka. But those “plans” were waylaid. That probably also contributed to why the cultivar wasn’t officially registered until the early 1990s.

For more information on the cultivar, I suggest checking out My Japanese Green Tea’s article on the subject. Quite insightful.

Since then, the cultivar has been utilized to make, not only Japanese black tea (wakocha), but also different forms of sencha. It’s a pretty resilient li’l clonal. And somehow . . .

I may have had a hand in convincing a vendor to convince a farmer to make a white tea from it.

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A Rohini White Tea Rumble

Sometimes, all it takes is a photograph to get me excited.

Image owned by Shiv Saria. 2017.

This was posted back in November of 2017 by one Shiv Saria. The tea in question was a Darjeeling white tea hailing from the Rohini tea estate. In most cases, that would be where the story ends, but if you’ve frequented this blog enough, you know there’s more to the story than that.

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Tea at the Temple Gates

On the odd occasion, I leave the house to hunt for tea. It’s a rare occurrence—much like a hermitic groundhog hailing the arrival of spring—but it’s been known to happen. Sometimes that urge falls upon me at night, on a Friday. And on one such night in the spring of 2018, I found myself at The Speakteasy Underground.

Purveyor of this nighttime tea gathering in Portland, Steve Odell—whom I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times—served up something particularly interesting.

It was a Mao Feng green tea hailing from Meng Ding Mountain in Sichuan province, China. Originally, I almost refused it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chinese greens, but with very little coaxing, I acquiesced. And it . . . was heavenly; equal parts creamy and sweetly vegetal. I hadn’t tried a pan-fried green quite like it.

Steve regaled the crowd with how he got the tea, and waxed wizardly about sourcing it from a bonafide tea temple.

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The Invoices of Autumn

While most of the world above the equator is currently complaining about winter, my mind is still stuck in autumn.

At least, that is, from a tea perspective.

Of all the seasonal flushes in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, autumn is considered a dumping ground. It’s a chance for gardens to make up for any lost product movement from the summer, but it also allows for one last pluck, thus making the effort of pruning later less arduous. (Or so I’d guess.)

Unfortunately, many consider autumn flush teas to be inferior, uniform, or lackluster. I’ve gone on record before declaring that not to be case, and this is particularly evident in Darjeeling. In fact, a true character of a garden sometimes shows through with what’s offered in autumn. And I was given such an opportunity again by one such garden.

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A Long-Awaited Look at Latumoni

Throughout 2018, there was one name I could not escape.

Latumoni.

It was the name given to a village in Northeastern Assam, situated in the uppermost part of the Dibrugarh district. It was apparently so remote; it didn’t even show up as a physical location on Google Maps. (At least, not in English.) Stranger still, trying to find a definition to the name “Latumoni” proved equally as nebulous. This Wikipedia entry for a tree kept popping up.

After double-checking with someone, I learned that—indeed—the Assamese name for that tree was “Latumoni”. Abrus precatorius (the science-y name for it) used to grow plentifully in the region, and the red seed pods were often used in decorations. How it became the name of the village proper is anyone’s guess.

What’s this all have to do with tea? I’m getting to that.

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The Smoked Darjeelings of Niroula’s Tea Farm

In November of 2012, I accidentally “created” a smoked Darjeeling.

I say “accidentally” and put arbitrary air-quotes over “created” because . . . that’s only kinda what happened. One fateful day, I put a sample of Risheehat first flush—enclosed in a do-it-yourself tea bag—into a tin of loose Lapsang Souchong. Totally not thinking of the consequences. A week or so later, I broke out the sample, brewed it up, and marveled at the light-but-lingering “campfire embers” taste.

That made me wonder if and when someone in Darjeeling proper would (or could) ever smoke a Darjeeling like that. Several years later, in the summer of 2016, I saw this. Tony Gebely from World of Tea posted a picture of a first flush Darjeeling . . . that had been smoked over oak.

Image owned by Tony Gebely.

My jaw dropped. Apparently, it hailed from an “estate” called Niroula.

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The Ruckus over Ruan Zhi

Ruan Zhi—or “soft stem”— is a particular cultivated variety (or cultivar) of tea plant originally hailing from China, before making its way to Taiwan, and then migrating further along to Thailand and Myanmar . . . I think?

I say “I think?” because, well, information is not all that clear about the cultivar’s origins. As a result, I’m going to have to approach this write-up in reverse. That being: focusing on teas that were made from said cultivar once it made its way to Thailand, and even as far away as Myanmar. After that . . . I’ll attempt to elaborate upon the soft-stemmed tea bush’s checkered past.

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Going to Gopaldhara by way of Boulder, Colorado

Gopaldhara is a tea estate in the Mirik Valley in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state West Bengal. Like many such tea estates in the region, it began its life in the late 19th century. Plotted and planted by a bunch o’ Brits.

Image owned by Gopaldhara.

It derives its name from the original owner of the land, prior to tea planting—someone named “Gopal”—and the existence of natural streams that wound along the landscape; colloquially known in the old Lepcha language as “dharas”. Hence the name, Gopaldhara.

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Sheng Puerh from a Secret Wild Tea Garden

Glen and Lamu of Crimson Lotus Tea are one of my favorite husband-‘n-wife puerh hunter duos.

Up until 2016, I only knew of them, and the good reputation they’d garnered over five years as trustworthy sellers of Yunnan’s favorite export. However, over the last couple of years, I developed a bit of a quixotic, after-hours correspondence with the Glen half of the team. During the spring and early summer months—while they were on one of their annual sourcing trips—I’d occasionally hear from him (or vice-versa) . . . at 2AM.

In one such conversation, he casually mentioned they’d been invited to tour an old growth tea forest few Westerners had ever seen. He immediately had my attention; the words “secret tea garden” scrawled into my brain. A week-or-so-ish after that conversation, they posted this video on their YouTube channel.

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