I think it’s high time I talk about the Castleton estate.
Sometimes, in my search for new teas to try, I get drawn in by mentions of particular producers.
This is Wei Zhong He. I first learned of him through my dealings with Kevin Gascoyne (Camellia Sinensis Tea House’s “Darjeeling guy”), and he particularly caught my attention for one reason. He experimented with using Darjeeling first flush production styles, and incorporated them into a Chinese hong cha (red/black tea) process. But there’s more to him than that.
Earlier this year, a fellow tea blogger sent me information on an Indian tea growing region I’d never heard of.
A place filled with old(er) growth, semi-wild assamica forests, which bordered Assam to the East. The state: Manipur. I knew nothing about this Indian state, other than the fact that it bordered Myanmar. That and it was well within the zone with which the Indian strain of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (a variety and subspecies of tea tree) grew plentifully. For some reason, I shrugged at this. Mainly because of the “wild” claim. How wild could these trees be, anyway?
Over a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article discussing the nature of sheng cha.
It didn’t go over well.
I used a Vietnamese sheng puerh-style tea from Son La province as a part of my thesis, and it also helped spark further discussion about how prevalent the process was in Northern Vietnam. Short answer: not much.
Well, it’s spring again, and with it comes warmer weather. That’s how it is in the Pacific Northwest. I’m . . . not a fan. The reason? With warmer weather comes seasonal chronic migraines; a fun little diagnosis I received back in 2017. And it puts a heck of a damper on my routine tea drinking.
Every year is a little bit different. I have to spend a couple of months tinkering with my tea drinking rituals so as to avoid triggering a headache later in the evening. This year was particularly upsetting because everything seemed to be a trigger, even my yearly love affair with first flush Darjeelings.
So, it came as quite a surprise that I fared better when I switched over almost entirely . . . to green tea.
I don’t consider it spring until I’ve had a first flush Darjeeling in my mouth. This year, though, it took me a little longer to get to my “stash” of first flush Darjeelings. Most years, the family Lochan sends me a few to get the ol’ palate revved up for the year to come. And, as with most years, I dive right in. First flush Darjeelings are a special treat to this ol’ tea blogger. Unlike most “black teas”, Darjeeling first flushes aren’t fully oxidized. That’s why they maintain a very “green” palette, and a very floral palate.
Who can you blame for that?
Ja. That’s right.
First flush Darjeelings used to resemble second and autumnal flush Darjeelings; both in appearance and oxidation. However, since the biggest Western importer a few decades back was Germany, they had a sizable influence over how said tea was processed. They wanted to emphasize the natural aromatics of the region when the spring pluck occurred; when the sweet floweriness was the most pronounced. Enter: the greener, more aromatic first flush.
This year, I got a few of the usual suspects from the Lochans—Giddapahar, Rohini, Avongrove, etc. But there were a few in there that caught a second glace for another reason. I’d never heard of them.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes, all it takes is a photograph to get me excited.
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.
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.