A few months ago – as some of you have undoubtedly seen – I received samples from What-Cha. Many of them were from Russian tea estates in Krasnodar krai, specifically the Dagomys region near Sochi City. Yeah, the place where the Winter Olympics were held two years ago. I’ve written about Russian teas rather extensively in the last couple of years, but I had yet to do a profile on one specific garden.
What-Cha’s owner, Alistair Rea, sort of nudged me to sample a couple of black teas from the so-called “Solohaul Tea Estate”. As with any tea company or garden, there was very little information available online. And unless I somehow managed to become fluent in Russian (and the Cyrillic alphabet), that wasn’t about to change anytime, soon.
Alistair, however – in his usual, resourceful way – did find an article about the garden, complete with lovely pictures . . . one of which I mooched.
From what little I could understand via Google Translate, the Solohaul (or “Solokh-Aul”) garden spanned 400 hectares. I couldn’t make out as to when the garden was founded, but the article did mention that tea gardens in the Solokh-Aul region had been started and destroyed since 1905. The age of this particular garden’s incarnation was unclear.
Last year, around this time, I tried a green tea from the same garden, and considered it about as near-perfect as a green tea could get. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t really have a green tea palate to begin with. This time ‘round, I was subjecting my tongue to a couple of their black teas.
The appearance of the Alpine was . . . gorgeous.
The leaves were extremely large, twisty, black and burly-looking. I love whole leaf teas, mainly for the fact that they (generally) can put up with the most punishment. The aroma, though, was even more tantalizing, betraying notes of chocolate, mint and fragrant wood. Y’know, like an “artisan” Kit-Kat bar; totally a compliment.
The liquor brewed to a nice and even, soft amber with an aroma of . . . raisins?
What is it with the Dagomys terroir and raisins?! That seems to be an ongoing trait with Russian black teas I’ve noticed. On taste, though, there was something even more perplexing than just the raisin thing. The What-Cha notes said I should expect a “malty fudge taste”. It was close to that. Malty fudge covered raisins!!! A trait I’m strangely comfortable with.
This may seem like a bizarre comparison, but it somewhat reminded me of a wild heicha I tried over year ago.
The “Keemun”, on the other hand, didn’t look or act like any I’d ever come across. I’m conflicted about whether or not I should remove the quotation marks from the word.
The leaves were far too long, and the cut was far too large.
Most Keemuns I’ve come across have thin, almost needle-cut leaves. Not sure what the actual process is, but the result looks kind of like . . . black-colored rooibos.
There, I said it.
The aroma was also un-Keemun-like, letting off impressions of chocolate . . . some kind of cream. Similar to the Alpine in scent, really.
The liquor for this brewed up – wow – exactly like a Keemun, bold and beautiful red. Not copper, not burgundy, not cherry – bold red. The aroma was all wood and sweetness with a malty kickback, also very Keemun-ish. As for taste?
Y’know what? . . . Fuck it. This is a Keemun.
Keemun Mao Feng, to be precise. The malt, wood-sweetness and additional traces of raisiny terroir in the taste. Yep, they played well together, but under the Keemun rulebook – whatever that is.
I liked both of these quite a bit, but my clear favorite was the Alpine – hands down. It was perfect. From the whole leaf presentation, to the chocolaty brew, I think it might be the best Russian black tea I’ve ever tried. Up there with some of my favorite black teas, period.
So far, so good, Solohaul.
To buy the “Alpine”, go HERE.
To by the “Keemun, go HERE.