Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Canton Tea Co.

Tea and Sugar – The Weird Way

NaNoTeaMo, Day 4: “Tea and Sugar – The Weird Way”

In 2013, I was a regular follower of UK-based Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club blog. Two of their employees went on a sourcing trip to Yunnan province, China, and picked up something rather unique. I certainly hadn’t heard of it before, and I try to keep my ear to the ground regarding anything “weird”. The blog entry featured a Dian Hong (Yunnan black tea) that had been fired in red cane sugar.

can sugar black tea

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Bi Luo the Belt

White Tea Week, Day 1: “Bi Luo the Belt”

In late 2012, I was given a unique opportunity. Canton Tea Co. wanted me to guest blog for them, relating my personal experiences with Dan Cong oolongs. I did finally get around to said blog…oh…three months after they asked. Instead of using it for “just” a blog update, I was informed it would be used for something else.

They asked me if they could use said blog in the third week of a monthly subscription service they were launching. As payment, I got to test-run said service. Monthly tea subscriptions are a dime a dozen now, and there are some great ones out there. However, a year ago, the only game in town (of that magnitude) was 52Teas. Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club was taking it a step further.

tea club

Each week, new and unique teas would be featured along with profiles, background info, and personal anecdotes. Even in my smidge of a capacity, I was happy to be a part of it, and I was able to experience some fabulous teas in the process. There was this Hawaiian white…oh my gawwww *cue drooling*…

Alas, all good things had to come to an end, and my trial run of the subscription ran out. I wish I could’ve monetarily renewed it, but I was poor at the time. Actually, make that all the time. Seems to be a recurring problem. Luckily, I was in no shortage of teas to try. However, one showed up that made me go, Damn it!

On Week 26, a White Bi Luo Chun appeared. White. Bi Luo. Chun. Until that week, I was only aware of three variations on that style of tea – a gold-tipped black, a Keemun, and the original green tea. A white tea of that style definitely made my neck hairs erect.

I made my best beggar eyes in Canton Tea’s general direction.

cutesy eyes

They appeased me…probably out of pity.

I won’t go into what Bi Luo Chun is, or what its precarious history amounts to. I covered that story quite vividly HERE. No, I made none of that up.

Bi Luo Chun green tea actually hails from Jiangsu province, China. This white variant hailed from Yunnan province, much like it’s gold-tipped sibling. However, unlike Golden Bi Luo, this looked like no “Green Snale Spring”. Bi Luo Chun usually looks like this:

Green Bi Luo

Photo Owned by Esgreen

Leaves rolled to look like snail shells, as per the name. These looked like, well, slugs maybe. (Green Slug Spring. Heh. That has a ring to it.)

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Okay, that’s not entirely fair, there is some wiggle room to the rolling of the leaves. I have come across some more anachronistic approaches to Bi Luo Chun rolling. Generally, though, they’re rolled pretty tightly.

All snark aside, the leaves did smell very pleasant, and as floral smelling as the description indicated. I caught a whiff of lotus and honeysuckle when I put nose to bag. Aside from the flowers, the scent also reminded me of rough wilderness – a common trait I find in Yunnan whites. It wasn’t quite as rough as rough as those…but close.

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On taste, it’s a Chinese white through-and-through with an herbal front that transitions to a slightly grassy but mostly floral middle, and trails off nicely into a feeling of old forest. It doesn’t have a melon-ish lean like some good Chinese whites, but makes up for it with a slight citrus tickle on the aftertaste. All in all, it had a lot in common with Yue Guang Bai, another Yunnan white, but with a better flavor delivery.  I, frankly, enjoyed it over its Jiangsu-produced green tea sibling.

Don’t believe me? Well, try it for yourself. Or you can take your opinion and “Bi Luo” off. You know I had to use that pun at least once.

fozzie-bear

2012 Wrap-Up – It’s All in the Tea Delivery

happy new year 2012 from father time and the new year's baby from histeria

2012 can suck it.

Okay, perhaps I should elaborate. Since about – oh – 2008, I can’t say I’ve had a particularly “good” year, by any stretch. They’ve usually been a mish-mash of good and bad. The finest example of this was 2010, which was just…bipolar. 2012, however, was just all-around shite right out of the starting gate. So bad, in fact, that I took an (unintentional) hiatus from anything to do with writing for the better part of December. I had nothing positive to impart, and – frankly – didn’t feel like rehashing my dark mood.

As a result, for this entry, I’m going to focus on the (few but far between) positive moments of the last year. Over the summer – like I’ve said in prior entries – I decided to “retire” from tea reviewing. My heart (and time) weren’t into it anymore. I was also under the delusion of focusing on other projects. That didn’t quite pan out, but – honestly – was anyone really surprised?

One of the things I was looking forward to was finally whittling down my vast tea stores. Without an influx of new teas coming in, perhaps I could finally notch them off – one cup at a time. That didn’t quite pan out, either. Reason being? The kindness of strangers. I may have given up on tea reviewing…but it didn’t give up on me.

I would like to highlight and wax awesomely about some of these kind folks:

The Photo-Biker Tea Shaman

If – by the grace of Brahma – I ever make it to Darjeeling in my lifetime, the first person I’m looking up is Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Back in ’08, when I first started writing about tea, I received a random Facebook friend request from him. It took me to several months to do “the maths” to figure out that he was the headliner of Thunderbolt. The following year, he sent along a care-package of teas to review and a few other goodies.

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He is solely responsible for my complete 180° opinion change about Darjeeling teas. In 2012, he came through again with some exquisite teas from Turzum, Risheehat, and Castleton. I wrote about each and every one of them, and I still pull the packs out for reflection. Benoy is probably the nicest tea-guy I’ve ever met, and I hope one day to shake his hand. And buy all of his tea. All of it.

Tea MC Tiff

There was a time in the middle of the year when I made regular tea pit stops to my favorite brick-‘n-mortar stores. On Saturdays, I usually made runs to The Jasmine Pearl. On Mondays, I could be found at Smith Teamaker. For the latter, I usually went in the morning before the rush started.

Tiffany was often the host on duty, and gracefully put up with my esoteric tea-fueled diatribes for the two hours I was there. She also made a mean bowl of matcha. Aside from the bowl, I usually left the place about two pots in.

On one such outing, she informed me that she and her son were planning a trip to Japan. She asked if I knew of any tea gardens that were near Kyoto. I racked my brain for a bit while sipping, then it hit me. Obubu! (I love that name.)

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I gave her the info on how to contact the garden for a tour. The following week, she told me that her contact form hadn’t been approved yet, nor had she received a reply about it. I took to Twitter to contact their main sales-guy directly. He replied mere seconds later and sped up the process.

Tea MC Tiff ended up visiting the plantation and had a wonderful time. That and she brought back some teas (plural) from her trip. Chief among them, some Hawaiian green and sakura blossoms – the latter of which had been on my Tea WANT! list forever. It took me forever to try it, but I’m thankful for the opportunity.

It really is who ya know.

The Purrfect Cup

Courtney Powers (great spy name, by the way) is my girl-bro. I say that because I can’t think of any other gal that has had my back in 2012 like this sister-blogger. She encouraged me if/when I was ever down, she was the perfect NaNoWriMo cheerleader (which I never completed), and the best part…

She sent me some damn good tea.

Zhu-Rong-XL

Thanks to her, I was finally able to try some of the wares from Verdant Tea, a company that I’d been eyeing for several months. Their Zhu Rong and Laoshan series were topnotch. And I wouldn’t have been able to say that if it weren’t for her “purrfect powers”.

The SororiTea Sister

The funny thing about this fellow tea reviewer – alias, LiberTeas – is that she’s practically a neighbor. I’ve never met her – probably never will – but some of the best teas I tried this year stemmed from her. Steepster’s to blame. I saw an update on that tea social media site regarding a Darjeeling white I’d never tried from my favorite estate – Giddapahar.

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I left only one comment on the actual SororiTea Sisters review. I think it said, “WANT!”

A couple of months later, I received a package from her with that Darjeeling white, and a few others she thought I’d enjoy. Prior to that, we had made a few tea swaps, and almost always, they had been unsolicited. She’s just that nice. I still have quite a few of those samples to pound through, too.

The Powers That Be

Along with insanely good blogging tools and advice, the Davenport duo that run this here site have also shown great tea patronage. This year, Jackie imparted some offerings from the Doke estate – the one managed by the Lochan family. One was an oolong; one was a white. Both were exquisite.

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I had plans to include them in an epic story, but that never came to pass – alas. But I’m still grateful to have had the opportunity to sip them. Copiously.

Big Brass Butiki-s

As I’ve mentioned before, Stacy Lim – the purveyor of Butiki Teas – is on my palate wavelength. She has a flare for the unusual, a leaning I can relate to and respect. She sent me an e-mail some months ago wondering if I’d ever heard of Japanese pu-erh. I rattled off some things I had tried, yet she said those weren’t what she was thinking of.

organic japanese puerh

Before I could apologize for not being more useful…she offered some up for sampling. A month or two later – barring hurricane delays – I received an ample package containing a sample of the aforementioned pu-erh and a few others. Of the nine, I’ve unfortunately only made it to two. With tea patronage like this, delays are inevitable. I couldn’t thank her enough.

“The Hero of Canton”

Back in the spring, I was “commissioned” by Canton Tea Co. for a guest blog on a couple of new Dan Congs they were putting on the market. Unfortunately, being well…uh…me, I didn’t finish the guest blog until that summer. I received an e-mail back from their sales lead stating that they had other plans for the blog. They were about ready to launch a new weekly tea club, and they wanted me to be a VIP.

What this meant exactly, I had no clue. I thought it consisted of a couple of samples as payment for the guest blog, and that was it. Boy, was I wrong.

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It’s been twelve (or so?) weeks since the official Canton Tea Club launch, and I’m still a member. I get new and unique teas once per week. They have yet to call upon me to do another write-up, but the teas keep a-comin’. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a clerical error, or if they’re seriously just that cool. For now, I’ll go with the latter and not question it.

I “heart” them dearly. And, seriously, their tea club is a game changer. You – fair reader(s?) – should check it out.

The Great Wizard Zendalf

Also in the spring, I received a DM over Twitter from Zen Tara requesting to send me some Darjeeling to review. This was prior to my “retirement”, so I naturally said, “Hell yeah!”

Time went by, though, and I never saw a package. I didn’t press them on it because – well – that’d be douche-y. What would I have said, “Hey, where’s mah free tea?!”

Uh…no.

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I let it slide, and forgot about it over the passage of time. Literally a week before Christmas, I received a rather large box in the mail. Five teas were contained in said box with a letter from “The Great Wizard Zendalf”. It told an epic story of how this delivery came to be, and instantly earned my approval of awesomeness. Among the teas in the package was a note-perfect golden-tipped Assam from the Khongea estate that I’ll be reflecting on at a later juncture. Still, what a way to make an entrance, Zen Tara. You know me too well.

Clouds and Mist

This wouldn’t be a true gratitude blog if I didn’t mention tea authoress, Jo Johnson. On top of being one of my biggest cheerleaders from the get-go, she also mentioned that I’m in the forward of her upcoming book. That alone caused more warm-fuzzies than any other moment this year.

A couple of weeks back I received a Christmas card and a sample packet of tea. It was a Cloud & Mist green, a type I’m not usually a fan of. However, I brewed it up anyway.

Not sure if it was the tea, my gratitude, or a bunch of other factors…but it was the best green I’d tried.

And I think that pretty much sums the good things from this year.

2012 can suck it

But I will still sip it.

Leaves of tea

Throwing in the Towel after a Tea Fight

A couple of weeks back there, I attended a different sort of tea meet-up. The Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants joined forces for a movie night. The movie in question? Tea Fight (or “Dou Cha”) – a Taiwanese/Japanese co-production centering almost entirely around tea, and the people who drank it. One of the Jasmine Pearlites described it as “tea porn”.

Sold.

The Jasmine Pearl were serving up hojicha and Mayucha sencha, while PDX Tea Dave brandished some Taiwanese oolongs. Fitting given the origin(s) of the movie. I was looking forward to it on a scholastic level; I’d never seen a movie that focused completely on tea. Well, except for a rather cool, teacentric episode of Sherlock. The writer part of me wanted to see how it was done so I could compare it to my own tea-fiction-y efforts. Another thought that ran through my head: When/where did Portland get so many hot tea chicks?! (It was ruining my concentration.)

Ahem…

The movie opened with an anime sequence – yes, an anime sequence! – explaining the backdrop. In the distant past, there were two rival tea clans – the Female Golden Tea Clan and the Male Golden Tea Clan. The Female clan brewed tea that instilled a sense of calm and peace, whereas the Male clan’s brew instilled passion and aggression. Due to a misunderstanding involving a Japanese tea merchant (surnamed Yagi), the Male Golden Tea Clan exterminated the Female.

In the ensuing kerfuffle, a little boy combined both the Male and Female liquors, drank them, and turned into a dragon. Realizing the wrong they’d done, the Male Golden Tea Clan scoured the remains of the Female clan’s village for any surviving tea bushes. There were none – save one. A single plant rescued by the Japanese merchant, Yagi.

And that’s just the first ten minutes of the movie.

The rest of it deals with the descendants of the two tea clans and the father/daughter heirs to the Yagi family. I won’t give anymore away than to say that the movie plays out like Karate Kid meets Romeo & Juliet by way of Sideways. The story is told in broad strokes – as it should be – and particular emphasis is placed on tea brewing. Albeit exaggerated.

From a tea geek’s perspective, I found some of the brewing techniques fascinating. The Male Golden Tea Clan pressed their tea into beengcha cakes, scraped leaves off, stone-ground them to a fine powder, and then whisked. The Female Golden Tea Clan…uh…did tea-fu. (No, seriously, it looked like they splashed water in the air, and went all Crouching Tiger with it. Quit epic.)

The Yagi family stone-ground their own matcha!!! I want my own stone-grinder! If I had one, I could finally realize my dream of making green rooibos matcha. And, wow, I’m getting way off topic.

In short, the movie was cheesy in all the right ways. It was the first media-ish piece I’d seen that captured the true grand scale that tea’s multi-millennial history encompasses. And it took me over a week to watch it. I’ll explain…

I actually had to leave the PDX Tea/Jasmine Pearl event early for…beer. Yes, beer subverted tea. A friend of mine made a homebrewed oatmeal IPA and was unveiling it for swigging. Couldn’t be passed up. However, I was able to at least take in over half of Tea Fight before leaving.

And I was humbled.

For the better part of November – as some of you know – I’d undertaken a NaNoWriMo project. For those not familiar, that’s where a writer tries to concoct 50K-word novel in a month. That’s right, a month. My initial goal was to cheat and repurpose old blogs into a book; I called it “CheatoWriMo”. Unfortunately, nine days into the project, I had an inconvenient epiphany – dictating that I start from scratch. The new idea was pure tea porn.

At first, I was engaged in the project, but the narrative was heading in a direction that I didn’t quite like. The entire affair was starting to make me feel uncomfortable, and I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was the fact that it hit too close to home, or maybe it was just bad writing. I dunno. Then I saw Tea Fight…and I was ready to throw in the towel.

While it wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, it did what I was trying to do and did it better. What I had put to paper so far didn’t convey what I wanted it to. And Tea Fight did. Toward the tail end of the week, I announced that I was scrapping my little tea tale. I couldn’t even stand to look at the manuscript.

In the interim, fellow Tea Trader and NaNoWriMo participant – Courtney the Purrfect Cup – had reached the 50K mark. I was proud of her. She  and another compatriot – authoress Katrina Avila Munichiello – plus others in the NaNo group  urged me not abandon the project, but instead give it room to breathe. An answer would come, they stressed.

Yesterday, I finally finished watching Tea Fight, and came to a realization. I totally missed the point of the movie. Yes, there actually was a message it was trying to convey, and it was oddly relevant to my mid-writer’s crisis. One of the deus ex machina characters in the movie was the ancient tea scholar, Lu Yu. He appeared occasionally to motivate the characters forward. I won’t give away the movie’s ending, but the overall moral was (paraphrased slightly): “Your true fight is the one with yourself. Tea is innocent.”

All this time, the story made me uncomfortable because I was drawing upon more of myself than from stories prior. Actual life experiences were being used as a basis for the plot. I was blaming the material, but – in reality – it was me. The story wasn’t crap; I was crap for trying to quit. Only time would tell if it was a train wreck.

At the time of this writing, I was undertaking another challenge. The Canton Tea Co.’s Tea Club had sent me some Ali Shan and Li Shan (i.e. Taiwanese oolongs), and they were asking participants to choose a victor. This proved a difficult comparison, but in the end, Ali Shan won me over by a hair. However, the best results came from mixing the two. Unity superseded the tea fight. Right now, I’m swigging the mixture by the pot…

And listening to M.C. Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit”.

To read what I have so far on said “tea porn”, go HERE.

Very Well, Give Him Tea Cake

Photo Owned by Canton Tea Co.

Photo Owned by Canton Tea Co.

I received an e-mail some two months back from Canton Tea Co. wondering if I had interest in reviewing a new sheng (raw) pu-erh. Far be it from me to refuse such an offer, I nodded (and typed) an emphatic, “Yes!” The only question would be where to put the review. I contribute to three different sites and keep my own blog for musings and unique teas. As I was pondering this, the tea arrived a short week after.

Canton Tea Co. described this as a sheng pu-erh made of “just-pressed” maocha (unfinished pu-erh leaves), and that it was privately commissioned by them from a small tea farm in Yunnan. That’s right: A custom-made pu-erh. I guess this was Canton’s way of saying: “We have a tea cake named after us, what are you doing with your life?”

Ah yes, the term “tea cake”, I almost forgot to get to that. For those in the pu-erh know, post-fermented and/or aged teas are often compressed into different shapes. These forms are almost always cake-shaped. “Beencha” (or “bingcha”, depending on your pinyin) literally means “tea cake”. Personally, I think the pressed pu-erhs look more like Frisbees…but I don’t think there’s a fancy Mandarin word for that (but I’m sure someone will prove me wrong).

But I digress.

While I was pondering where to put a write-up for this tea, I decided to take a sliver of it to work. I found most shengs could take a Western brew-up pretty well – even allowing three steeps. The flavor I expected was the usual rustic, earthy, and somewhat winy lean of raw pu-erhs past. That was not the case here. In fact, it was rather light, fruity and floral – kind of like un-pressed maocha, but not as brusque. Perhaps I should’ve read the fine print on Canton’s custom tea.

Photo Owned by Canton Tea Co.

Photo Owned by Canton Tea Co.

Not only was it a sheng beengcha specially made for Canton Tea Co., it was also one of the youngest pu-erhs I’ve ever come across. The stuff was plucked, pressed and packed in the spring…of this year! Up to this point, the youngest sheng I had tried was at least three years old. That would explain the green tea-ish flutteriness I felt on the tongue. That settled the inner debate of where to put the write-up. Youngest pu-erh ever? Custom-commissioned? Yeah, that’s unique.

Now I had to give it a more thorough, worthwhile look-through. Canton also mentioned in the tea’s profile that the leaves were of the “Arbor” varietal – a wide-leafed cultivar often used for pu-erh. They were also labeled Grade 6 and above. I had absolutely no idea what that meant. What I did know was that the leaves looked like a sliver of tree bark in their pressed form – wonderfully sweet and floral tree bark.

Brewing instructions on the Canton site recommended a gongfu prep using a 3-4g chunk (a teaspoon) in 203F water and a first infusion of twenty seconds. They also mentioned that it could infuse up to six times. I already knew it could hold up to Western prep rather well, but I wanted to see how a gongfu go-ahead would fair. Instead of twenty seconds for the first steep, though, I went with thirty. I also followed that up with three more infusions – another at thirty seconds and the last two at forty.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed pale (but crisp) yellow with a wonderful aroma of tangerine blossoms – sweet and citrusy. It reminded me quite a bit of a white tea I had from the same varietal. The taste was smooth, lightly citrusy as well, and only mildly grassy on finish.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): A bit of a deeper yellow-gold liquor this time around, and the scent had more of a floral presence. Also in the aroma was a distinct feeling of “smoke” – not sure how that got there. The flavor began with a clean introduction that emboldened to a lemongrassy top note before trailing off pleasantly into Mao Jian green tea territory.

Third infusion (forty seconds): The liquor color hadn’t changed, but the smell was dominated by lemons and flowers – faintly, of course, but still there. Flavor-wise, it delivered a crisp smack of citrus, then smoothed out to a completely green tea-like palate delivery. Pu-erh? What pu-erh?

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This hadn’t weakened in either color or scent; the yellows and lemongrassiness still reigned supreme. The taste was still crisp, and there was no change to the spry citrus mouth-feel. On the finish, I got some of the residual, pu-erh-ish mustiness.

Photo by Davis Doherty

Photo by Davis Doherty

Beyond the four I wrote about, this could’ve easily gone on for another three infusions. Any brewing beatdown I gave the leaves, it took with steeped stoicism. Much like a loose sheng pu-erh I wrote about last week. Canton Tea Co. was spot-on in their belief that this was a perfect introductory pu-erh for the uninitiated. It lacks some of the feeling of “old” that its mature cuppa compatriots possess. It’s the perfect gateway to the world of aged teas, and I bet it could age well on its own. If I had a pu-erh cellar – and if I believed I could live past fifty – I would experiment. You’ll just have to take my word (and theirs) for it in the meantime.

To purchase the 2011 Canton Tea Co Special Puerh, go HERE.

(Title “inspired” by Eddie Izzard, watch and laugh.)

The Gold Debacle

Perhaps it is because I have a near-glandular reaction to all things shiny, or perhaps it’s something more visceral. Whatever the case may be, I love teas with the world “Gold” in them. It wasn’t something I was particular aiming for, but more of an epiphany I had over one particular type of tea.

I received a sample of Zen Tara Tea’s Golden Yunnan Special. Looking at it was like beholding beige-like brilliance…and like honey-lathered lightning had hit my tongue. At first, I thought it was possibly a fluke, but then I visited a teashop local to me – the Jasmine Pearl – and picked up some of their Golden Needles. The reaction was just about the same – honey-pepper-nectar-gasm. From that point on, I had a favorite black tea.

Naturally, I wondered if other teas with the word “Gold” were equally as perfect for my palate. The next on the list was the Fujian-grown Golden Monkey – often heralded as the black tea equivalent to Bai Hao Yinzhen (Silver Needle), a distinction I’d disagree with. While having a similar gold-like, tippy presence as the Yunnan variety, the leaves were smaller and curlier. However, they did impart a similar nectar-like flavor, if not as eye-glazing. Okay, second time was the charm; this was definitely not a fluke. Maybe it was an irregularity.

On a random perusal, I ran across a product dubbed a “Golden Assam”. Perhaps it was a Photoshop trick, but the merchandise photo made it look just as shiny as a Yunnan Gold (or Jin Cha). A fellow tea colleague – Michael J. Coffey, ever the steep scientist – urged me to reel in my expectations. According to one of his Assamese contacts (yes, the man has contacts), gold tips are often added for visual flare but have no effect on taste. Much like cornflowers being added to some inferior Earl Greys.

A random tea outing with a gold-haired friend confirmed my “findings”. Their gold-tipped Assam did indeed have some honey texture to go along with the requisite malt. I even ordered another pot of Yunnan Gold just for taste comparison. While the latter was better, the Assam did hold its own.

Some doubts did enter my mind about the “gold standard” when I revisited gold-tipped Assams in the form of a Khongea estate offering. It was really good – malty, hearty, slightly smoky, all those manly adjectives. But it didn’t possess that ‘gasmic “oomph” of the prior golds. Maybe Coffey had a point.

The conversation was revisited, this time with Assam-lover, Ken Macbeth, in tow. It even inspired this write-up from Ken regarding the price one pays for the appearance of a loose leaf batch. MJC even reiterated that while there is likely a flavor I’m subjective to in Yunnan Golds – or to the “golding” process in general – that doesn’t make it universally better. At the time of the conversation, I refused to believe it.

Then I taste-tested two teas from Canton Tea Co. One was a black tea from Fujian (my favorite Chinese province) called Bai Lin Gong Fu. It looked and smelled like a black tea – like a Dian Hong (regular Yunnan black) only tippier. The taste, though…wow. It made me tip my head back in Homer-esque reverie, tongue splayed.

A few months later, I received another sample from Canton for their Superior Bai Lin Gong Fu. I wondered how the heck they could top the regular kind, but – apparently – what made it superior was the appearance. The entire batch was GOOOOooooooOOOOoooold! However…I noted in my review of it, that – while I did love it – I preferred the regular Bai Lin. The honey-nectar presence was there, but it simply didn’t top the silky magnificence of its darker kin.

Superior vs. Inferior (?)

My journey came practically full circle with a revisit to The Jasmine Pearl. The owners – Chuck and Heather – were a very patient couple in dealing with me. They had mentioned in passing that a new shipment was coming in for some Golden Needles, straight from Yunnan, and that it was even better than their last one. Perfect timing since I ran out of my stores of their last batch. They urged me to be patient, though. Deliveries from China were known to be slow.

That didn’t stop me from calling them repeatedly.

Me: “Is it there yet?”

Them: “No.”

Geoff: “How ‘bout now?”

Them: “No.”

Me: [pause] “Now?”

Them: “No.”

Me: “Are we there yet?”

Them: “What?”

Me: “What?”

(Okay, I made that last part up.)

A month ago, I stopped in to childishly ask one more time. Rays of heaven parted when they confirmed with an emphatic “Yes!” that it, indeed, had arrived. There was a problem, though. This was nowhere near as gold-tippy as the last batch. It smelled wonderful – like tiramisu, chocolate, and forest – but the peppery aspect was all but gone. I bought it anyway and did a side-by-side comparison with another Golden Needle I had on hand.

Gold Vs. (Mostly) Gold

Gold vs. (Mostly) Gold

Yep, definitely darker.

Then came the taste-test.

Oh wow.

Oh my…wow…

Oh wowie-wowie-wow-wow.

I rated the last Golden Needles they had a ten out of ten. This was an eleven. It was then that I begrudgingly admitted that there was something to the processing. Here it was, a darker Golden Yunnan, and I liked it better than any of its shinier kin. Fine, I’ll admit it now. The “golding” process doesn’t necessary make it better, but there is still something to it in terms of Chinese black teas. I’m standing by my Yunnan Goldies, even the ones that are rougher around the edges.

Awesome Assam is Awesome!

Teas from the northeastern state of India called Assam are known for many things. First and foremost are their robust and malty characteristics. Second (and this is one I’ve noticed) is their lean towards – how to put it – tiramisu sweetness. Very odd. Part of their unique character comes from the varietal of tea plant used – one that is actually native to the region. Unlike Darjeeling, which uses Chinese cultivars, Assam has its own native bush, the Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Until the British came along, this shrub was only used for Ayurvedic  purposes.

To me and a few others in my tea circle, Assams hold the honor of being the second manliest type of tea in existence. First place, of course, goes to the pine-smoked monstrosity that is Lapsang Souchong. I have since sampled quite a few single estate offerings – some better than others – and all have put a spring in my step thanks to the s**tstorm of caffeine they impart. But no one told me…

That there was a white Assam out there.

White teas are my muse. They started me on the path of tea exploration;  they continue to haunt and heighten it.  I have tried whites from China, Sri Lanka, Darjeeling, and even here in the Pacific Northwest. All were one shade of awesome or another, but I had never had a white Assam.

It’s white buffalo-esque existence came to my attention upon visiting a local tea shop. I was perusing the vast array of loose leaf whites when I came across it. So shocked was I that I could barely form the words, “I’ll get an ounce of this.”

The teller said, “That’ll be $15.”

Like a Tex Avery cartoon, my jaw dropped. I ended up leaving with just my do-it-yourself teabags. My quest was at an end by way of moth-wallet.

A year later, I received a white tea variety pack from Canton Tea Co. They always treated me super well. Of the unique teas in the batch, I expected the Darjeeling white, the Silver Needle, and the White Peony. (I adored all of ‘em.) Quietly tucked away in the mailbag, though, was something I wasn’t expecting. Scrawled in Asiatic-looking script were the words “Assam White”.

I shrieked. My brother/roommate jumped at the sound. His dog looked at me quizzically. My cat’s tail bristled in alarm. I tried to explain the significance of this one shiny, silver bag of “Awesome”…but it all came out like geeky sputters.

I brewed it up the next day.

The dry leaves looked like Silver Needle white tea by way of lawn-clippings – small, reed-like, and light green. The aroma also didn’t give off anything particularly extraordinary. It smelled like grass with a bit of a melon-mint profile – white tea-ish but not uncharacteristic. As a result, I brewed it up as I would any normal white tea; 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. of 165F water for three minutes. Big mistake.

I basically brewed…water. It had no character to speak of whatsoever. This being made from the same burly leaf Assam blacks were, though, I knew I’d done something wrong. I did it again, but this time I dialed the temperature on my water kettle to 180F. This was pushing it, but it was for science, damn it!

The results were pure…well..awesome.

Okay, if you want specifics, the liquor brewed to a transparent gold with a strong nose of parsley, sage, rosemary and F**KING AWESOME!!! It had the character of other white teas but with some of the malt that made Assam blacks so delectable. It was like someone said, “Melon meet Malt. Now…FIGHT TO THE DEATH!”  Imagine a Viking in a tu-tu, and you’ll get the idea. Sure, he’s wearing a tu-tu, but you wouldn’t call him a sissy. This was no sissy white tea.

Further proof of its lack of sissy-ness arrived by steep five. Yeah, you heard right. Steep f**king  five. This pitbull puppy of a tea lasted five infusions without letting go of its flavor. I only ran into one other white tea that lasted that long, and that was from the U.S. of A. Most taper off by steep three.

Canton Tea Co. mentions that this white tea is from the Mothola tea estate, one of the only estates in Assam to produce white teas. In other words, this was a rare pleasure indeed, and that sort of explains the high price tag for Assam whites in general. Still, considering how much bang you get for that buck (five steeps!), I’d say fork it over. This was not a white tea for wimps…even though I am one.

To buy Canton Tea’s Assam White, go HERE! (If you dare…)

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