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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Happy Earth Tea

A Tale of a Nepalese Tea Estate

I’m well aware of the awkward timing of this blog, given recent events. Originally, I’d intended to have this up the week prior. Circumstances of the lazy kind prevented me from finishing it by then. So, here it is, now. And, yes, I will be addressing the really shaky subject matter toward the end. But please allow me to start from the rather pleasant beginning . . .

Three years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of trying my second tea from Nepal. It was from a tea estate dubbed Ilam Chiyabari. I tried to locate it via Google Maps at the time, but found no information on it. After posting a review of said second flush black tea, I actually received a comment from one of the co-owners of the estate – Bachan Gyawali. He said that Ilam Chiyabari was a new outfit, but that he (and his brother, Lochan) also owned a sister tea estate called Jun Chiyabari – located in Eastern Nepal.

Jun Chiyabari estate

Mere months later, I had a chance to try something from the sister estate, a green tea called “Himalayan Evergreen”. I remember being floored by it. Years would pass before teas from that estate would once again grace my cup. Niraj Lama, o’ he of Happy Earth Tea, informed me that he’d acquired a few teas from said estate, and that they were en route to me as he was writing the e-mail. Two black teas, one oolong and a green tea.

Jun Chiyabari

Needless to say I was excited. For two reasons: (1) I wanted to get a better idea of the other teas the estate produced, and (2) I was looking forward to writing a Happy Earth Tea-based blog that didn’t involve dwarves . . . or my brother’s dog. (Long stories; both of them.)

Himalayan Evergreen #121

At the time I tried this, I had no idea it was a variation of the same green tea I sampled three years ago. As with most of the Jun Chiyabari offerings, this was from the autumn 2014 harvest. And like the other teas, their appearance was indicative of the overall style of the Nepalese estate’s technique. The leaves were small, obviously hand-rolled, and – as the name suggests – green. Unlike the other teas, though, the leaves were far greener, and that also showed in the scent, which was herbaceous and sweet – like a Chinese Xue Ya green tea.

For brewing, I went for a light approach – even by green tea standards. I heated water to roughly 175-ish F, used around a teaspoon of leaves and a 6oz. steeper cup. For the safe side of steeping, I went with a three-minute infusion.

Himalayan Evergreen

The results were . . . magnificently pleasant. There was a grassy, buttery introduction that transitioned (creamily!) to a floral conclusion. If there was a top note, I didn’t notice it amidst curling up in an evergreen electric blanket of pleasantness. This was terribly pleasant afternoon comfort food.

Himalayan Oolong

Believe it or not, I’m a bit of an old hat at Himalayan oolongs. I’ve had several over the course of years, and no two are the same. Some are ball-rolled, others are deeply roasted. If one is looking, they can spot a common terroir-related characteristic. But other than that, they’re all quite different. This was no exception.

On appearance, it was like looking at a Darjeeling that’d been coiled like a Chinese Bi Luo Chun. The color of the leaves was distinctly oolong, though – soft greens to hues of purple and brown. A veritable menagerie of mid-oxidation. The aroma also exuded this with a floral, slightly fruity, and almond-like presence.

For brewing, I went with a Darjeeling-ish approach. I brought water to a boil, let it cool for a minute or two, then poured it over 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup.

Himalayan Oolong

The results were really peculiar – in a good way. The liquor brewed light amber with an aroma of wine grapes and wilderness flowers. On taste, that’s where things got really confusing. The introduction was all grape, but then it settled down into something more resonant – not exactly floral, not exactly earthy. I would say, close to aromatic, like a Taiwanese oolong but with a Himayalan bend. The finish was light and creamy.

Himalayan Bouquet #130

The leaves for the Himalayan Bouquet were twisty in a hand-rolled sort of way – like an oolong, half-balled. Colors on display ranged from brown to green, to shades of white tea pale. I even spotted some downy furs on some of the lighter leaves. The aroma they gave off was straight nuts and . . . mocha? Chocolate but with a kick.

For brewing, I treated this as any other black tea – a tablespoon of leaves in a 12oz. mug of boiling water for three minutes. I assumed that the liquor would color as soon as I touched-down my little strainer ball. Not the case. The water didn’t start infusing color until well into a minute of steeping. That had me worried.

Then I put nose to cup.

Himalayan Bouqet #130

The smell of nuts was strong with this one. The liquor did end on a pale note – Darjeeling first flush light, on the subtler side of amber. To the taste, though, my eyes widened a little; one brow furrowed. Almonds were the introduction, followed by delightfully floral middle, and it trailed off with a faint astringency that settled on something herbaceous. Had this been a blind man, I thought I would’ve tasted a nuanced Darjeeling oolong.

Himalayan Bouquet #153

The leaves for this offering were different from its other numbered sibling, but not in the appearance. Both the #130 and the #153 looked the same – hand-rolled curly-cue leaves of varying colors. Where they differed was the smell. This possessed more of a traditional, malty black tea aroma, where the #130 was more . . . Spring-like?

I brewed it like I did everything else, boiled water, three-minute steep, 1 tsp., 6oz. steeper cup . . . etc. . . . yadda-yadda . . . ad infinitum.

Himalayan Bouquet #153

The liquor brewed up light amber, just like every other medium-bodied Jun Chiyabari offering. On sight alone, I wouldn’t be able to tell both Bouquets – or the estate oolong, for that matter – a apart. The difference was in the aroma. This had a much deeper aroma and a slightly burlier presence. That also showed up on taste, delivering a bit more astringency at the forefront, followed by a toastier top note, and trailing off into a sea of almonds and flowers.

Just like three years ago, the one that floored me the most again was the Himalayan Evergreen. It had all the things I looked for in a green tea – that being it had nothing in common with typical green teas. Hard to believe, but green tea really isn’t my favorite type of tea. Sure, there are those I like, but I tend to gravitate towards . . . well . . . anything else. To find a green tea I like, let alone one I love is a rare thing, indeed. All the Jun Chiyabari teas were great, but the Evergreen was exceptional.

As I said above, I meant to have this article up a week ago, but then on Saturday (April 25th, 2015) a devastating earthquake devastated the capital city of Kathmandu and surrounding areas. The impact was felt all the way to India. I was at work at the time, and first learned of it from Facebook. Folks I knew (or knew of) in the region were checking in, informing everyone that they were safe.

After getting off shift, I took to Twitter to learn more. Amidst my various inquiries, I actually received a reply to one of my pings from the Jun Chiyabari estate itself:

Jun Chiyabari tweet

Relief tugged at my heart. A simple reply – a mere few characters – reminded me that regardless of vast distances, we’re all connected. Whether by chord . . . or cup.

Dating, Darjeeling, and Drought

This might come as a big shock to a lot of you, but I don’t do a lot of dating.

 

For the record, it’s mostly my fault. I don’t put much effort into looking, and I’m in no real hurry to start. That and I’m perpetually broke, I don’t take wonderful care of myself, nor do I cultivate a personality oozing of confidence. And – like my tea palate – I’m insanely picky. That said, a drought is still a drought.

If one were reaching, they could even compare it to the recent scourge of waterlessness that struck Darjeeling earlier this year. According to this article posted by Happy Earth Tea, areas of Darjeeling saw their usual yields cut in half by the absence of rainfall. Darjeeling East fared better than most, but a lot of tea estates in the region saw their production cut significantly by the chronically dry weather. The result? Less Darjeeling to go around at a far higher price.

I even saw many a Darjeeling estate director express “water from their eyes” at the lack of “water from the skies”.

Poetic, really. Darjeeling wasn’t alone. Assam saw a similar lack of precipitation, as did my beloved Doke Estate in Bihar. Plans for certain teas were altogether discarded from many due to the lack of leaf abundance.

As a result, I wasn’t expecting to see any of this year’s Darjeeling yields pass by my cup. After 2013’s underwhelming second flushes, I wasn’t too disappointed. Oh, how wrong I was.

In the span of a week after reading that article, Happy Earth Tea informed me that 2014 First Flush samples were heading toward me. As far as Darjeelings went, first flushes were typically my favorite. However, I was expecting more of the same from this year’s batch – spice, faint muscatel notes and nuts. Again…I was wrong. Twice in row.

I already did TeaCuplets for Happy Earth’s Singbulli and Arya Ruby first flushes, respectively. Not only was I blown away, but I actually had to say that these were the best first flushes I ever had. Even better than my favorite year – 2011.

So, what does this have to do with dating, and why did I deem it necessary to do a blog on two disparate subject matters? I’m getting to that. Chill, dudes/dudettes.

This last week, I was moving on to my third Darjeeling in the new Happy Earth Tea retinue – their 2014 Puttabong.

 

This was a tea estate I had no strong feelings about. I’d had teas from their I liked, and others that I didn’t care for as much. So far, my palate was “take-it/leave-it”. Although, I always giggled when I heard the name. Kinda reminded me of a certain bit of drug paraphernalia.

(Note: No, I was not going to post a picture of a bong.)

The first time I brewed it up, I wasn’t paying too much attention to technique. I over-boiled some water, prepped two scoops of leaves, dumped them in a strainer, poured water into a travel mug, guesstimated three-ish minutes, then left for work. As I drank it on my drive, something tasted…off. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Sure, the nuts and spices were there in the taste, but there was also a great deal of astringency. As the water cooled down, that chalk-like feeling on the tongue grew stronger. There was only one conclusion I could come to: I had over-brewed it. Damn, that was a bad omen. A bad first cup of tea meant a bad rest-of-the-day.

As I stepped through the door, though…something magical happened.

 

Between two departmental managers was a woman I hadn’t seen before. She was tall, slender (in a willowy sort of way) with shoulder-length curly brown hair. She had an ivory complexion, a cute button nose, and medium-to-full lips. It was like she’d stepped off of a Jane Austen novel jacket. The assistant manager had told me they’d recently hired someone who was a British ex-pat, but nothing prepared me for this.

She introduced herself; I returned the favor – albeit clumsily. Then I went off to start my tasks. All the while humming songs from Disney’s Robin Hood for some reason. Okay, I knew the reason. Her original home just happened to be a place made popular by Robin Hood lore. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject.

 

A few hours later, as I was in the middle of cleaning a toilet (yes, I do that)…she approached me.

“I hear you’re a tea drinker,” she said with grace, “I would love to talk to you about that some time.”

“Oh yes, quite into it,” I said, still scrubbing the rim of the bowl. “The first flush Darjeelings are great this year.”

She laughed. It was the greatest sound in the world at that moment.

“Oh wow!” she exclaimed, seemingly impressed. “You’re really into it.”

“Uh-yep.” I said shortly. Then went back to scrubbing. Yep, still got it, I said to myself sarcastically.

Later on, I worked up the nerve to talk to her again, after she waved and smiled at me.

“So…” I had no idea how to ‘open’, so I went with, “What was in your cup this morning?”

“Oh, I had an iced coffee.”

My heart sank.

It was never meant to be.

I went home and revisited that ol’ Puttabong sample. I still possessed the spent leaves from the earlier brew. This time, I took more care in the brewing – three-minute steep. The results were…pure palatial poetry.

 

I tasted straight grapes. No, not a hint of muscatel…or whatever crap taster notes people associate with Darjeelings. Far bolder than that. This was transcendent of wine grapes – it was sweet, kind, welcoming, warm – kind of like the laughter of…oh…

And then I understood.

Like with the Puttabong, my first impression of British Girl was one of high expectations and fantasies. It wasn’t until a second impression that those unrealistic notions were completely dispelled and surpassed! Sure, my palate is picky, but it also admits when it’s wrong. After all, there was a time when I didn’t even like Darjeelings – sad but true.

The next day, British Girl and I had a few tasks to work on together. We talked, she laughed at my dumb jokes, and her smile always lingered just a bit longer than necessary. I could’ve listened to her laugh all day. When my shift ended, I even stuck around for an extra ten minutes just to hear her talk some more.

Eventually, I did pry myself away from work and return home. A couple of hours in, I brewed up some more Puttabong. It was like a fond, lingering smile in my cup.

Perhaps the drought has ended.

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