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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Nepal

The Green Teas of Nepal

I’ve confessed (here and there) to turning into a bit of a Nepalese tea fanboy lately. I may have even made a lofty claim that whatever it is they’re doing may very well be a possible future for the tea industry. (But that’s a whole ‘nother article.) While I’m not going to retract that statement, I am going to clarify it a bit. Simply put, imagine that India is the “Reinheitsgebot” (Bavarian Beer Purity Law”) of South Asian tea growing countries. Nepal would be Belgium. They take the old rules and just . . . toss ‘em out the window.

Nepal’s tea growers, farmers, farming collectives, and estates don’t have a solid model in which to base their industry on yet, but they have a pretty good start. They’re not afraid to buck tradition to try something wacky. And I  was recently sent three green teas – courtesy of Norbu Tea Company – that solidly illustrated my point.

Nepali green teas

The White Forest Oolong Finish Line

NaNoTeaMo, Day 30: “The White Forest Oolong Finish Line”

Holy heck . . . I made it.

finish line

This is it, Day 30. The final post in my self-inflicted NaNoTeaMo challenge. No one put me up to it; I wasn’t trying to prove anything. The only reason I did it was to see if I had any ounce of writing discipline in me. Apparently, I do. And then some.

A Teenjure and Tealet Tea Tale

NaNoTeaMo, Day 11: “A Teenjure and Tealet Tea Tale”

I have an unwritten rule for Facebook: “If I’ve never talked to you before, chances are I won’t accept your friend request.”

Through my other tea-centric social media accounts, I come in contact with a lot of industry professionals from around the world. Most have no clue what my role is in the industry. Many don’t even speak my language. And some don’t even know who I am. Tea bloggers are – at best – a peripheral presence.

Exclusive as that all may sound, I do allow for exceptions. Nabin Koirala is one such exception.

Nabin in a tea field

A Business Trip with Benefits

A Business Trip with Benefits – World Tea Expo 2015, Day 1

Arriving at the Long Beach Convention Center, and seeing that sign, was like coming home again.

World Tea Expo Sign

This was to be my third World Tea Expo in a row. The first year was a three-day whirlwind of awesomeness. The second was like a quickie, followed by a long-distance relationship. This year took on an entirely different form. This was a business trip . . . with benefits.

Within minutes of entering, I encountered people in my tea blogging sphere. This was just within the first hour.

Photo by Gary Robson

Photo by Gary Robson; Left to Right – Jen Piccotti, Jo Johnson, Tony Gebely, Katie Gebely, Me, Chris Giddings

. . . And true to Murphy’s law, my camera kept dying right when important things happened – such as meet-ups. Therefore, I had to mooch moments from other people who had the forethought to bring a decent phone, camera or – in one special case – a battery pack.

A particularly noteworthy pleasure was finally getting to meet Katrina Munichiello – an author/editor I truly respected. She was just as nerdy as the rest of us, and a pure delight to boot. Even I violated my usual selfie embargo to be snapped with her, Nicole “AmazonV” Schwartz, and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter.

Katrina

Photo by Katrina Munichiello; Left to Right – Me, Rachel Carter, Nicole Schwartz, and Katrina.

After who-knows-how-long of playing catch-up, I finally hit the Expo floor. My first mission was to see a familiar face. I learned through the tweet-o-sphere that one of my favorite Oregon outfits – Chariteas – had a booth. Per my World Tea News write-up, she was now wholesaling Indonesian teas from one garden – two blacks, one white, and one . . . that was absolutely delicious . . . but I couldn’t quite identify it. It was called Grey Dragon.

Chariteas Grey Dragon

It almost needed its own category.

In my floor wanderings, I also encountered Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, who soon became the Maverick to my Goose. If there were folks I needed to talk to; I followed her. If she was in search of something shiny and weird; she followed me. In that first day, we encountered Columbian grown tea, coffee leaf “tea”, and Laotian grown tea. (I’ll get to all of those in greater detail at a later date.)

We also encountered random friends in our wanderings. There was so much to take in that we both said, “Oh yeah, we have a panel to be on in ten minutes.”

Amplify Your Business - Rachel

Photo by Rachel Carter; Left to Right – Nicole Martin, Me, Jo Johnson, Jen Piccotti

Jen “An International Tea Moment” Piccotti had organized four of us boggers for a panel dubbed “Amplifying Your Business Voice Through Tea Bloggers”. It was a serious panel. I’d never been on a serious panel before. No, it didn’t stay serious for very long. Fellow panelists included Jen, Nicole M, myself, and the venerable Jo “Scandalous Tea” Johnson. The goal of the panel was to illustrate how tea vendors could best use tea bloggers to get the word out on their wares. I was surprised by the ample turnout.

And I was even more surprised that – mid-panel – I’d forgotten Jen’s name.

Photo by Nicole Schwartz; "Derp" by Me.

Photo by Nicole Schwartz; “Derp” by Me.

Oops.

Once the Expo-ing leg of the day was done, I moseyed over to the Tealet beach house rental for a focused tasting. Elyse Petersn and Rie Tulali ran us through a couple of special teas from Nepal, as well as some Jin Jun Mei and Hawaiian white.

Tealet Beach House

That’s all I needed. More caffeine.

Day One: Complete.

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.

The Whites of Nepal’s Eyes

White Tea Week, Day 2: “The Whites of Nepal’s Eyes”

Back in June, again at World Tea Expo, I had the pleasure of meeting the proprietors of the new company, Nepali Tea Traders.

Nepali Tea Traders

I first sought them out when I noticed they had Nepalese oolongs and a Nepalese pu-erh among their wares. I found both iterations of old Chinese tea formulas  beyond acceptable. Particularly the Wild Yeti oolong…because…YETI!!!

A brief recap: Nepali Tea Traders is a U.S.-based outfit that specializes in importing teas from Nepal. (Obvious enough.) However, their particular focus is on Nepal’s Ilam region, specifically the farming collective-owned tea factory – Sandakphu. Teas purchased through NTT help benefit the workers and their families in the region.

I think I got that right.

Nepalese white teas weren’t exactly new ground for me. I covered a couple of ’em HERE (in a fictional vein). But there was one experiment I wanted to try with the Himalayan variants that I didn’t have the opportunity to before. Drinking them all side-by-side.

One night in the Fall, I decided to do just that. These were the results:

Three white teas

Ama Dablam White Tea

On first impression, I noticed the very pretty, light green, downy-fur-covered leaves. I was instantly reminded of the Darjeeling estate Arya’s Pearl white tea. The aroma was like olive leaf with a hint of spice.

The liquor infused extremely pale – like, Silver Needle pale – with a subtle aroma of melons and herbs. Taste-wise, it was like a White Peony by way of a jalapeno popper. The latter metaphoric comparison was due to the spice and fruit I detected – as well as the grape-like finish. A very beguiling liquor.

Sandakphu White Tea

This one had a VERY muscatel, spicy smell with a hint of wildness, similar to a Yunnan province Chinese white. The overall sensory experience, though, I likened to the Darjeeling estate Risheehat’s Silver Tips white tea.

The infusion brewed to the darkest liquor of the three, a very obvious yellow. Not much of an aroma to speak of. On taste? It was woody, nutty, and an alternating flavor of lemons and sage on the finish.

Dhulagiri White Tea

Appearance-wise, this looked like a White Peony/Silver Needle hybrid. However, the smell (and look) was that of a green tea – particularly reminiscent of Mao Feng, except the shape of the leaf-rolling was definitely Himalayan. It also gave off a very grassy fragrance with a trail-whiff of artichoke hearts.

A three-minute infusion resulted in greener liquor as opposed to the usual white tea yellow. The aroma was still very green tea-ish, a lot like a Chinese Clouds and Mist green – one I despise. The taste, however, was a relieving sensation of butter, cooked veggies, and an undefinable sweetness on the end.

While I liked all of them, my clear favorite was the Ama Dablam. For some reason, it was the most white tea-ish to me. Aside from the spice, everything about it screamed, “Pay attention to my subtleties!” Like a mystery woman with a name you can’t pronounce. So glad I had the opportunity to do this. Brings an old tear to the whites of my eyes.

eyeballing tea

Wrestling a Wild Yeti

The yeti – or Abominable Snowman – is a possibly mythical, ape-like beast native to Nepal and Tibet. The name “Yeti” derives from a Tibetan compound word that loosely translates to “manbear from the rocky place”…or something like that. “Abominable Snowman” was coined by a British lieutenant-colonel on a Mount Everest expedition. They located some tracks that their Sherpa associated with the illusive snowbeast.

My first “exposure” to the legend – or at least, the one that I remember – was from Disney’s Matterhorn ride. Along the rollercoaster’s path, you encounter a rather lifelike animatronic yeti on one of the many twisty turns. To a five-year-old, it was piss-your-pants scary. Beyond that moment, I never paid the mythical man-bear-ape-thing much heed.

matterhorn_yeti

Until I saw an oolong named after it; an oolong from a country I didn’t know did oolongs.

I’ve had plenty of teas from Nepal.  Not sure what region they came from, since I suck at geography, but I can run off the names of tea estates forever. Many of them had he word “Ilam” in their names. Still not sure what that means; too lazy to google it. What I didn’t know was that there was an actual region in Nepal called Ilam.

Nepali Tea Traders is a company based in Colorado founded by Maggie Le Beau. They are the first (as far as I know) company specializing in sourcing teas directly from private farmers in Nepal. I know plenty of vendors that source from tea estates, but not from actual farmers. The company first came to my attention when I saw mention of a Nepalese pu-erh. That sent me a-buzzing, and while perusing their site, I ran across their oolong selections. One had the word “Yeti” in it. By manly mandate, I had to try it.

22

The leaves were black and gold with a curly, hand-rolled appearance – similar to a Darjeeling or Assamese oolong. It differed from these in scent, however, bestowing a toasty and slightly fruity aroma to the nose. Tearing myself away from the bag was a chore; I could’ve whiffed it all day.

Typically with any type of oolong, I like to try it both Western-style and gongfu-style to see what the differences are. But a tea with a name like “Wild Yeti”, there was only one way to go : Go big or go home. I brewed this in a pint-sized filter mug for the full three minutes using boiled water. Screw nuance, I wanted to see what kind of punch it delivered.

The liquor brewed up as ruby dark as any black tea I’ve ever had. The aroma from the steam was like…plumbs dipped in cocao batter by way of…lava? Unusual but enjoyable. Flavor-wise, I was in for a surprise. This actually tasted like a full-on mid-roasted oolong from Taiwan, very much like an autumn Dong Ding without the graphite lean.

IMAG0722

Most Himalayan oolongs maintain a bit of their muscatel nature, regardless of the oxidization. While this was still very pekoe-ish, it gave me more of an oolong impression than those of similar processing from Darjeeling. That and there was a very smooth, wine-like finish. I like wine; and I like…uh…finishes? Wait, that came out wrong.

Point being!…I love me some knew tea-ish experiences, especially good ones. This was mostly definitely a good one, and one that I’m hopped up on while writing this. Wow, this has a caffeinated kick. I could really wrestle a yeti now. And lose horribly.

© Kate McCurrach

© Kate McCurrach

For more information – or to buy – this beast, go HERE.

Sidenote: Nepali Tea Traders has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help further their business model. Their goal is to expand their merchandise selection by buying some of the Ilam region’s first flush 2013 teas directly. This is a Kickstarter campaign I have NO problem throwing my hat in for. As per their business model, because they’re purchasing these teas from the private growers directly, more money goes to them and their families.

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